Trump declares Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, plans to move US embassy

Updated December 6, 2017 - 6:26 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump went where no U.S. president has gone before Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump also signaled his intent to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the city which both Israelis and Palestinians consider their capital.

Trump made the announcement despite fierce efforts to dissuade him from this course and warnings that the decision would sabotage his administration’s efforts, spearheaded by son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner, to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians after decades of failure.

“This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality,” Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence in the Diplomatic Reception Room.

As a candidate for president, Trump repeatedly promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, as did candidates Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him.

On June 1, however, Trump followed Clinton and Bush in signing a waiver to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. Trump chose this second waiver, which he signed, as an opportunity to change course.

“Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace,” Trump said.

“After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added. “It would be folly to assume that repeating the same exact formula would now produce a different or better result.”

Israelis and Palestinians reacted to Trump’s announcement in starkly different terms.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on Twitter to thank Trump “for his courageous and just decision.”

Netanyahu added, “There is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”

But Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas denounced the move as “a reward to Israel.” Palestinian leaders announced three days of rage to protest the decision.

Middle East allies opposed

White House officials emphasized that the administration would continue to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and reaffirm its support for the status quo of the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third-holiest shrine.

Still, Middle Eastern allies, whose company Trump has enjoyed in the White House and during his first foreign trip abroad, opposed the decision.

Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi warned the Jerusalem policy would “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world” and jeopardize the administration’s efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Palestinians.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned the policy could “widen the regional ripple effects by further complicating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; obstructing the ongoing peace process; and provoking the sentiments from the global Muslim community.”

Reaction was divided in Washington.

“True, holding off US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not result in peace,” tweeted Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, but the new policy “will likely make the situation much worse.”

But Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, dismissed warnings that the Jerusalem announcement will kill peace negotiations. “I think just the opposite,” he said.

Nihad Awad, national executive director for the Council for American-Islamic Relations, blasted Trump’s action as “offending the religious sensibilities of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and empowering political and religious extremists of all stripes at home and abroad.”

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been a longstanding goal of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Executive Director Matt Brooks. “We are grateful to President Trump for making it a reality.”

Reaction from Capitol Hill

During his 11-minute remarks, Trump noted that the Senate unanimously passed the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2017 in June. That did not stop some senators from criticizing Trump.

“The president’s decision today to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital comes at the wrong time and unnecessarily inflames the region,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in a statement.

Warner voted in favor of the Jerusalem recognition measure in June.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a pro-Israel Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed support for the move.

“This decision is long overdue and helps correct a decades-long indignity,” said Engel, of New York.

Trump’s decision fell flat with Western European leaders.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons, “Our position has not changed.” The fate of Jerusalem, she said, should be “determined as part of a negotiated settlement.”

The French embassy tweeted, “France does not approve of the United States’ decision on Jerusalem. France supports the two-state solution, with Israel & Palestine living in peace and security with Jerusalem as their capital. We must prioritize the easing of tensions and dialogue.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Germany for a brief stop, said planning for a Jerusalem embassy will start immediately — and that includes picking a site. But he said building the embassy will take time.

The administration contends it is a practical impossibility to move the embassy immediately. A senior administration official told reporters, “This will be a matter of some years. It won’t be immediate. It won’t be months. It won’t be quick.”

Pence is leaving later this month on an international trip that will take him to Israel and Egypt. Pence tweeted, “Today, @POTUS took a historic step to make it clear America stands with our allies — especially our most cherished ally, Israel.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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