Large crowds of worshipers across the Muslim world staged anti-US marches Friday, some stomping on posters of Donald Trump or burning American flags in the largest outpouring of anger yet at the US president’s recognition of bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In the holy city itself, prayers at the Temple Mount site dispersed largely without incident, but Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in several dozen West Bank hotspots and on the border with the Gaza Strip.
Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem triggered warnings from America’s friends and foes alike that he is needlessly stirring more conflict in an already volatile region.
The religious and political dispute over Jerusalem forms the emotional core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The ancient city is home to major Jewish, Muslim and Christian shrines and looms large in the competing national narratives of Israelis and Palestinians.
In a Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is widely seen in the region as a blatant expression of pro-Israel bias, but it was unclear if protests and confrontations would maintain momentum after Friday.
Across the region — from Asia’s Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan to North Africa’s Algeria and Lebanon in the Levant — thousands of worshipers poured into the streets after midday prayers to voice their anger. Some protesters burned US and Israeli flags or stomped Trump posters that showed the president alongside a Nazi swastika.
In Jordan’s capital of Amman, thousands marched through the center of town, chanting “America is the head of the snake.”
Pro-Western Jordan is a crucial US.ally in the fight against Islamic extremists, but King Abdullah II cannot afford to be seen as soft on Jerusalem. His Hashemite dynasty derives its legitimacy from its role as guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site, that sits on the Temple Mount.
Trump’s decision has also strained US foreign relations
UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Friday that Trump’s announcement created a “serious risk” of a chain of unilateral actions that would push the goal of peace further away.
Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour warned of the danger of “a never-ending religious war that will only be exploited by extremists, fueling more radicalism, violence and strife in the region and elsewhere.”
Even traditional US allies sharply criticized Trump’s decision.
Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said the US action “contradicts international law and Security Council resolutions.” Britain’s Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called the US decision “unhelpful to peace,” the French envoy expressed regret, and Italy’s Sebastiano Cardi warned of “the risk of unrest and tensions in the region.”
The US ambassador, Nikki Haley, told the council that the Trump administration is more committed to peace “than we’ve ever been before — and we believe we might be closer to that goal than ever before.” Haley did not explain.
In Europe, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played down the impact of Trump’s policy shift, which also included a pledge to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Tillerson said on Friday it will likely take years for the US to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
In a news conference with the French foreign minister, Tillerson said Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital “did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.”
The United States is making clear that Jerusalem’s borders will be left to Israelis and Palestinians to “negotiate and decide,” he said.
Most countries around the world have not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem and maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under a longstanding international consensus, the fate of the city is to be determined in negotiations.
Trump’s announcement delivered a blow to Abbas, a supporter of the idea of reaching Palestinian statehood through US-led negotiations with Israel.
In siding with Israel on Jerusalem, he has said, the Trump administration effectively disqualified itself as a mediator.
However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not decided how to move forward, including whether he will rule out future US-brokered negotiations. Trump has said he still intends to propose a Mideast peace deal.
More than two decades of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed to bring the Palestinians closer to statehood. Some in Abbas’ inner circle say the old paradigm, with the US serving as mediator, is no longer relevant.
On Thursday, a senior Fatah official said the Palestinians would not receive Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the West Bank later this month, but it was not immediately clear if the official spoke for Abbas.
The Arab League, an umbrella group of close to two dozen states, is to meet Saturday to try to forge a joint position, followed next week by a gathering in Turkey of the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Turkish officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkey next week for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Jerusalem’s status and other issues.