CAIRO (AP) — In speech after speech, Arab foreign ministers kicked off an emergency meeting in the Egyptian capital Saturday with scathing criticism of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but with few ideas on concrete actions to counter Washington’s move.
The Arab League meeting, which brought together foreign ministers from member states, was taking place as protests continued for the third consecutive day in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Cairo, the head of Egypt’s largest Christian church announced that he would not meet US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Cairo December 20, mirroring a decision Friday by the head of al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s top seat of learning.
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.
But Trump’s announcement triggered denunciations from around the world, with even close US allies suggesting he had needlessly stirred more conflict in an already volatile region.
Jerusalem’s status lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Trump’s move was seen by many as siding with Israel. Even small crises over the city’s status and that of the holy sites in its ancient Old City have sparked deadly bloodshed in the past.
Nearly 20 delegates spoke during the Cairo meeting’s two-and-a-half hour televised public session. Their comments ranged from blasting Trump’s decision to calling for concrete action to musings on whether fiery speeches would change anything.
“If we do nothing about this one [Trump’s decision], there will be many, many more tragedies,” warned Iraq’s foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
“No normalization [with Israel] and no compromises,” he urged emphatically.
Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gibran Bassil, called for an emergency Arab summit, a proposition that’s said to have been embraced by several Arab league member-states.
Earlier, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki called on world nations to recognize the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital in response to Trump’s decision.
Aboul-Gheit said Trump’s decision “condemned” the country that took it and the administration that passed it. It also raised a question mark over Washington’s role as a peace mediator, not just in the Middle East but in the entire world, he added.
“The decision amounts to the legalization of occupation,” said Aboul-Gheit, alluding to annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel after the 1967 Middle East war.
Al-Maliki called on the league to instruct its envoys in the United Nations to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Trump’s decision.
Trump’s decision, he said, “betrays its hostility and bias against the Palestinian people.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.