U.S. embassy to move
President Donald Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, defying warnings from other Middle East countries and some U.S. allies in a politically risky move that he insisted would not derail efforts to broker a peace deal.
The announcement was celebrated by Israel but met with fury from Palestinians, who accused him of destroying any hope of a peace deal.
In a midday speech at the White House, Trump defended his decision as “long overdue” recognition of reality given that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s parliament, supreme court and prime minister’s office. He argued that an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians has remained elusive for more than two decades even as his predecessors declined to recognize the contested Holy City as Israel’s capital.
“Some say they lacked courage, but they made the best judgment based on the facts as they understood them,” Trump said, speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room. “Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades, we’re no closer to a lasting peace agreement.”
Trump added that “it’s folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula will produce a different or better result.”
The announcement came a day after senior White House aides previewed Trump’s decision, and the president also ordered the State Department to begin planning to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that administration officials said would take several years. After his remarks, Trump signed another six-month waiver to maintain the embassy compound in Tel Aviv, which senior aides said was meant to ensure funding was not eliminated under a 1995 law even as planning for a new embassy would commence.
Trump emphasized that despite his decision he remained committed to helping broker a peace agreement. The White House is working on a peace plan to be unveiled sometime next year.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides,” Trump said. “I intend to do everything in my power to forge such an agreement.”
The announcement set off a flurry of reactions in Washington, Europe and the Middle East.
Trump spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to inform him of the decision and Abbas told him his government would not accept it.
“These condemned and unacceptable measures are a deliberate undermining of all efforts exerted to achieve peace and represent a declaration of the United States’s withdrawal from undertaking the role it has played over the past decades in sponsoring the peace process,” said Abbas Wednesday.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, accused Trump of “flagrant aggression” and called for Muslims across the Middle East to rise up against U.S. interests. U.S. embassies across the Middle East bolstered their security arrangements Tuesday night in anticipation of potentially violent protests.
Trump tried to placate Palestinian anger by saying his decision did not rule out the possibility of a two-state solution, where Jerusalem would be the capital of both Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the president’s announcement, calling it “a historic day” and stating that his nation is “profoundly grateful for the president for his courageous and just decision.”
Theresa May was among world leaders who expressed concern about the move. “We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace.
“The British Embassy is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it,” she said.
The Pope earlier said he had “deep concern” about the situation in Jerusalem and urged Trump not to move ahead.
Reaction was fierce from Turkey. Bekir Bozdag, the deputy prime minister, warned that Trump was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight.” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, its president, called for a summit of Muslim leaders next week in Istanbul to discuss the situation.
In Washington, Trump drew bipartisan support on Capitol Hill from Republicans and some Democrats.
In a statement, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the announcement “an important step in the right direction” and added that “unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision “helps correct a decadeslong indignity.”
Yet House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Trump’s move was premature and warned of “mass protests.”
White House aides emphasized that Trump’s decision would make clear to Middle East countries that the president, who campaigned on promises to move the embassy, keeps his word.
Demonstrators in Gaza burn Israeli and American flags during a protest against the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Wednesday.