Donald Trump has told Arab leaders that he plans to forge ahead with moving the US embassy to Jerusalem despite their warnings that it would derail Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and could spark violent protests.
The US president told Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and King Abdullah of Jordan that he would fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv and break with nearly seven decades of US Middle East policy.
The embassy is unlikely to move immediately but Mr Trump’s decision to formally notify the Arab leaders appeared to signal that he is committed to the policy after months of deliberations. He is expected to make a speech on the issue Wednesday.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian leaders insist there is no hope a peace agreement unless they are able to set up their own capital in East Jerusalem. Israel insists the entire city is its “eternal and undivided capital”.
His choice to move ahead comes in defiance of a chorus of international warnings from European and Middle Eastern leaders as well as former US officials and even ex-Israeli ambassadors to Washington.
King Abdullah, a close US ally, told Mr Trump that his “decision will have a dangerous impact on the security and stability of the Middle East” and will cause the “undermine the efforts of the US administration to resume the peace process”. Mr Trump called Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to tell him he plans to move ahead with moving the embassy Credit: EPA/ATEF SAFADI
A spokesman for Mr Abbas condemned the move as an “unacceptable action”. Mr Abbas immediately began a round of calls to Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and the Pope urging them “to intervene to prevent it from happening”.
The Palestinians had threatened earlier in the day to walk away from peace talks if the White House made a unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” said Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Mr Abbas.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s president, also told Mr Trump he opposed the move, according to a spokesman.
Palestinian factions called for three “Days of Rage” beginning on Wednesday in protest at the decision and Israeli security forces were bracing for potential unrest in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. US diplomats were ordered not to travel into Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank.
US embassies across the Muslim world have also been warned to prepare for protests.
The city of Jerusalem is home to the al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third holiest site in Islam
US presidents since Harry Truman have all refused to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, insisting that the final status of the city can only be determined through peace talks between Israel and its neighbours.
The UK and all other Western countries hold the same position, so Mr Trump’s decision to move the embassy would put the US at odds with many of its closest allies. Britain has said it has no plans to follow suit and move the UK embassy from Tel Aviv.
Mr Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that he would move the embassy in a sign of solidarity with Israel but he delayed the move in June at the urging of US diplomats and Arab allies.
But under pressure from his Evangelical Christian voters, many of whom strongly support Israel, Mr Trump and the White House began to signal it was “a question of when the embassy would move, not if”.
Mr Macron called Mr Trump on Monday and urged him not to move ahead with any unilateral moves on Jerusalem. His warnings were echoed on Tuesday by Sigmar Gabriel, the French foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat.
“Anything that escalates the crisis during these times is counterproductive,’’ Mr Gabriel said.
Leaders and diplomats from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League issued their own urgent appeals in the last 48 hours in the hope of persuading Mr Trump not to forge ahead. “Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president.
The process of moving the embassy could take years and Palestinians in Jerusalem are unlikely to notice any impact on their daily lives as a result of the move.
Some analysts have suggested that rhetoric around the issue is overheated and that moving the embassy will have little impact on the already slim chances of negotiating a peace agreement.
But the news of Mr Trump’s decision quickly reverberated around the world and was shared on social media by Palestinians. “If they recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital we don’t see any role for the US in negotiations,” said one Palestinian official.