Muslim tourists from all over the world – these men are from India – come to visit Jerusalem. Photo shows the Old City of Jerusalem on Dec. 5, 2017, with the golden Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in the distance. Photo by Jim Hollander/European Press, Agency-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock
By Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post
December 06, 2017
There is a small constituency in the United States that genuinely cares about the location of the American Embassy in Israel. Evangelicals and a right-wing, pro-Israel lobby were thrilled by President Trump’s campaign promises to reverse decades of U.S. policy by recognizing a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifting the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. At a speech on Wednesday, Trump is expected to outline his plans to do just that.
While that is happy news for some of his core supporters — as well as the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the proposed move risks starting new fires in the Middle East and attracting the fury of the international community.
Jerusalem, holy to all three Abrahamic faiths, is at the heart of the territorial conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel sees the city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians consider majority-Arab East Jerusalem to be the future seat of an independent Palestine. No country keeps its embassy there, and the long-standing U.S. position has been that Jerusalem’s final status would be determined only as part of a lasting peace deal.
In recent days, Trump spoke by phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, briefing them on his plans regarding Jerusalem. No one seems to have taken the news very well.
“Mr. Trump told our president he was going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Abbas, said in an article by my colleagues David Nakamura, Loveday Morris and Anne Gearan [see below]. They report that Trump told Abbas that the United States would make future moves that he thought would please the Palestinian people, although he did not offer details. “Our president said, ‘You don’t have anything that would make up for this on Jerusalem.’ He said, ‘Definitely, we will not accept it,’ ” Shaath said.
Nabil Shaath, the commissioner for external relations of the Fatah movement
Meanwhile, Arab governments that have been friendly to Trump issued stern warnings. “King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” a statement from Amman read.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, King Salman told the White House that a recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “would constitute a flagrant provocation of Muslims, all over the world.” The Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a body that represents 57 majority-Muslim nations, urged the United States “not to be swayed and aligned with the Israeli occupation and imperialism.”
Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Old City is revered by all Muslims. Photo by David Shankbone, wikipedia.
Palestinian factions have announced three “days of rage,” starting on Wednesday, to protest at a potential embassy move. They see recognition of an “undivided” Jerusalem as the Israeli capital as a tacit acceptance of the continued Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem warned U.S. nationals and government employees of potential threats to their safety and Palestinians burned effigies of Trump in the city of Bethlehem on Tuesday night.
“A decision such as this is both morally wrong and politically dangerous,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Today’s WorldView. “Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division.”
Ayman Odeh, an Arab Israeli lawmaker and head of the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, was even more blunt. “Trump is a pyromaniac who could set the region on fire with his madness”.
Palestinian protesters burn a picture of President Trump in Bethlehem on Dec. 5, 2017. Photo by Musa Al Shaer/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, contends that there is theoretically no harm in moving the U.S. Embassy to West Jerusalem — provided, first, that Trump makes clear that East Jerusalem has a different status and, second, that he conducts “a lot of preparatory diplomacy and consultation.” Trump would need to consult with Arab officials in particular to minimize backlash and keep Palestinian officials willing to negotiate.
But Trump’s decision has reportedly taken Arab leaders largely by surprise, raising questions about the White House’s ultimate strategy and intentions.
It also calls into question the future of the administration’s effort to restart the peace process. “The United States has attempted to shepherd the so-called ‘peace process’ on the basis that it can play the role of mediator. But by clearly adopting an Israeli position as its own, it makes clear it is not even pretending anymore,” Munayyer said.
The administration could be banking on a changing environment in the Middle East, with the region fractured by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and Israel developing closer ties with a host of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. But that may prove to be a mistaken gambit.
“The move would go against the very priorities that the administration has set for itself in the Middle East: fighting Islamist militancy and confronting Iranian influence,”“Jerusalem is the perfect issue for Iran and Islamist militants to use to mobilize support against the United States and those who endorse its policies.”
Over the weekend, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East peace envoy, Jared Kushner, told a Washington gathering that Trump had not made a final decision on Jerusalem. “He’s still looking at a lot of different facts. And then, when he makes his decision, he’ll be the one to want to tell you, not me,” Kushner said.
And if Trump does decide in favour of a move, Kushner’s task may be simply impossible. “If you’re about to launch a major peace plan,” said Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security, “the last thing you want to do is take this highly sensitive question of Jerusalem and just throw it into the mix.”
Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor and correspondent at Time magazine, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York. Follow @ishaantharoor
By David Nakamura, Loveday Morris and Anne Gearan, Washington Post
December 05, 2017
President Trump on Wednesday plans to upend decades of U.S. policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordering the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to that city, senior aides said, a decision that could derail the White House’s peace efforts and spark regional unrest.
Trump will make his pronouncement in a midday speech after months of deliberation within his administration and consultations with governments in the Middle East. But in a sign of the complexities of such a shift, White House aides emphasized that Trump will sign another six-month waiver maintaining the embassy’s current location in Tel Aviv because the process of moving it will take at least three or four years.
Without the waiver, which has been signed by every U.S. president for more than two decades, crucial State Department funding to the embassy would be cut off.
The president began informing his counterparts in the region of his decision Tuesday, prompting warnings from several countries that the move would inflame Muslims and disrupt progress toward a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. U.S. allies in Europe, including France, also have opposed such a change in policy, and the State Department sent a classified memo to embassies in the Middle East late last month warning of potential anti-American protests.
“Our president said, ‘You don’t have anything that would make up for this on Jerusalem,’ ” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who said Abbas had personally briefed him on the call. Abbas told Trump that he would “not accept it” and warned that the president was “playing into the hands of extremism.”
But Trump “just went on saying he had to do it,” Shaath said.
In Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem, said King Salman bin Abdul Aziz warned Trump “that such a dangerous step of relocation or recognition of Al-Quds as the capital of Israel would constitute a flagrant provocation of Muslims, all over the world.”
The backlash from other Middle East nations mounted Tuesday.
Speaking to the Turkish parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said American recognition of Jerusalem would be a “red line” for Muslims, possibly forcing Turkey to cut diplomatic ties with Israel that were recently renewed after a six-year hiatus.
Senior White House officials described Trump’s decision as the fulfilment of a key campaign promise that has broad bipartisan support in Congress. They emphasized that the move will not fundamentally change other aspects of U.S. policy. For example, they said, Trump remains supportive of a two-state solution, if that’s what the parties agree to, and the administration is maintaining the status quo on Jerusalem’s holy sites.
The officials said Trump is simply recognizing the reality that Jerusalem has historically been Israel’s capital and that most of the nation’s government — including the prime minister’s office, the Supreme Court and the legislature — is based there.
“For a long time, the U.S. position held ambiguity or a lack of acknowledgment in hopes of advancing the process of peace,” said one senior administration official, who along with two others spoke on the condition of anonymity at a briefing for reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “It might have been reasonable under certain circumstances and times. Certainly, it’s been tried. But . . . it seems clear now that the physical location of the American embassy is not material to a peace deal.”
Another U.S. official said after the briefing that while Trump will reiterate his commitment to the peace process during his speech, the White House recognizes that “some parties” might react negatively.
“We are still working on our plan, which is not yet ready,” said this official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time.”
Former CIA director John Brennan on Tuesday called recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv “reckless and a foreign policy blunder of historic proportion.” In an email statement, he said the action “will damage U.S. interests in the Middle East for years to come and will make the region more volatile.”
No other countries have their embassies in Jerusalem, under a long-standing international consensus that the city’s status should be decided in a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Palestinian factions jointly announced three “days of rage,” beginning on Wednesday, to protest against the potential U.S. Embassy move and recognition of Jerusalem. In a statement, they called on supporters around the world to gather in city centres and at Israeli embassies and consulates to voice their anger.
In a statement late Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem urged American citizens in Israel to avoid large crowds or areas where security had been increased, and ordered its staff members and their families to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank except for “essential” business.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which contains most of the important holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians, after the 1967 war with Arab powers. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while many Israelis and some in the United States consider the city sector to be already and irrevocably under Israeli administration. Some of Trump’s prominent Jewish backers appear to hold that view, although he has said he wants to honour Palestinian sovereignty through a mutual settlement.
U.S. officials did not identify any prospective location for the new embassy, and said it will take years to plan and build to meet security concerns for the roughly 1,000 diplomats currently headquartered in Tel Aviv. But the officials emphasized that the move will not prejudice Palestinians’ claims to East Jerusalem, strongly implying that only sites on the western side of the pre-1967 Green Line will be considered.
“This doesn’t speak to final-status issues,” a third administration official said, referring to the thorniest disputes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — those that are assumed to be in limbo until completion of a final peace settlement.
The officials said the decision was made with the support of Trump’s envoys seeking a long-elusive peace deal, an assertion meant to counter warnings that the change would unleash fresh Arab violence. They offered no specifics to support the claim that the move would not spoil the peace initiative headed by presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
The aides said, however, that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other State Department officials were closely involved in the deliberations.
The White House said a call was also scheduled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A spokesman for his office declined to comment.
Other advocates of recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital have pointed to Russia as an example. Moscow declared West Jerusalem to be the Israeli capital earlier this year, and the announcement produced no wave of violence or diplomatic backlash.
The U.S. position is more charged, however, because of Washington’s historic role as a peace broker.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said the move would undermine U.S. efforts to resume the peace process, according to news reports.
The Egyptian government said President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, in his conversation with Trump on Tuesday, “reiterated Egypt’s unwavering position with regard to maintaining the legal status of Jerusalem within the framework of international references and relevant U.N. resolutions.”
Morris and Ruth Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Gearan reported from Berlin. Adam Entous in Washington and Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.