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Abbas urges world leaders to prevent US Embassy move to Jerusalem

PA president sends letters to leaders of France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia, EU, asking them ‘spare no effort’ in thwarting relocation

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent letters to a number of world leaders on Monday urging them to prevent the stated goal of the incoming administration of US President-elect Donald Trump to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

According to the official PA news outlet Wafa, Abbas sent letters to the heads of Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain, the European Union, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab League secretary general, “asking them to spare no effort in preventing the US embassy from moving to Jerusalem”

The PA president on Monday also sent a letter to Trump, explaining what he believes are the pitfalls of fulfilling the president-elect’s controversial campaign promise.

In his letter to Trump, Abbas argued the move will “likely have a disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region, since Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem contradicts international law.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President-elect Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President-elect Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their intended capital. An American decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would signal US acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues that would need to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Old City after capturing the areas in the 1967 war. The UN Security Council last month branded all such land as occupied Palestinian territory — a designation furiously rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ridiculed the notion that the Temple Mount and Western Wall could be defined as not part of Israel. The US abstained in the vote, allowing the resolution to pass, which infuriated Israel and drew criticism from Trump.

On Friday, Abbas invited Trump to visit the Palestinian territories, but also said moving the embassy was a red line whose crossing the Palestinians would not tolerate, and such a move would throw the peace process into a crisis it would not necessarily be able to overcome, according to Israel Radio.

Earlier last week, in a meeting with members of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, Abbas said he did not believe Trump would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, despite Trump and his team having made statements to that effect after his election win as well as during the campaign.

Also on Friday, the Palestinian Authority’s supreme Sharia judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash declared that if the incoming US administration fulfills its campaign promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, it would be considered “a declaration of war” on all Muslims.

Trump and his team have spoken repeatedly of his intention to relocate the embassy to Israel’s capital, leading to wall-to-wall condemnations from Palestinian leaders, and even a warning from outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry.

In an interview with CBS News on Friday, Kerry said that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would cause “an explosion, an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank, and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region.”

The Jordanian government issued a similar warning on Thursday, with Jordanian Information Minister Mohamed Momani saying an embassy move would be a “red line” for Jordan, would “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets” and would serve as a “gift to extremists.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after delivering a speech, on the second day of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 30, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after delivering a speech, on the second day of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 30, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said last month that he would resign, the peace process would be over for ever, the PLO would revoke its recognition of Israel and the US would be forced by Arab public opinion to close all its embassies in the Arab world if the Trump administration moves the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on December 12 that moving the embassy “is a very big priority for this president-elect, Donald Trump.” Conway told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a lengthy interview: “He made it very clear during the campaign, and as president-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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