A delegation from the Palestinian Authority met on Friday with presidential adviser Jared Kushner to warn the Trump Administration that if it announces the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or if President Donald Trump makes remarks acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, this would mark the end of the peace process, Israeli TV reports said.
As of Saturday night, Trump had not signed a waiver delaying the move of the embassy by another six months, and he has only until Monday to do so. A stream of media reports in recent days have indicated that the president intends to declare in a speech within days that he considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, and that he may say he is instructing his team to prepare to move the embassy.
The Israeli government has long sought for the US to relocate the embassy and for the international community to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Any such steps “will kill the negotiations,” the PA delegation — which included Majed Faraj and Saeb Erekat, senior officials close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas — told Kushner on Friday, Hadashot news reported on Saturday night.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and/or announcing that the embassy will be moved would mark the end of the peace process, they reportedly said.
The warning was backed up by a letter from Erekat, reflecting Abbas’s anger at the anticipated US moves.
The PA delegation further said that were the US to make any such moves, the Palestinians would declare that the US could no longer be considered “an honest broker” for any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Channel 10 News reported, saying the meeting took place at the White House.
Aides to Abbas issued similar warnings on Friday. And Abbas adviser Mahmoud Habash said Saturday that the moves would amount to a “complete destruction of the peace process.” Speaking in Abbas’s presence, Habash said “the world will pay the price” for any change in Jerusalem’s status.
The TV reports said the Palestinians were not optimistic that their warnings would be heeded, since they assume the White House had taken into account the likely furious Palestinian reaction in weighing how to proceed.
Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and peace process point man, is scheduled to discuss the administration’s approach to peacemaking in a rare appearance at the Saban Forum in DC on Sunday.
The White House has not formally confirmed what it might do on the Jerusalem issue, saying that, for now, various options are open.
Multiple reports surfaced this week that the president would for the second time waive a congressional mandate requiring the US embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but that he would take the dramatic step of formally recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital.
According to an Axios report on Friday, Trump is set to give a speech to this effect on Wednesday.
A White House spokesman, contacted by The Times of Israel on Friday afternoon, would not confirm the story. “The president has always said it is a matter of when, not if,” the official said. “The president is still considering options and we have nothing to announce.”
The Axios report cited two sources with direct knowledge of Trump’s intentions.
On Tuesday, US Vice President Mike Pence said Trump “is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” Pence spoke at a gathering of UN ambassadors, diplomats and Jewish leaders at an event in New York commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote for partition of Palestine, which led to the creation of the State of Israel.
Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be a highly controversial move, with the potential to spark unrest in the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials were contacting embassies in the region warning them to prepare for the possibility of violent protests.
A presidential declaration could risk producing an angry response from the Palestinians and other Arab allies, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, just as the Trump White House is preparing to move forward with its attempts to broker a Mideast peace accord.
Israel says Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish state, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
A 1995 law requires the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but provides the president with the prerogative to postpone the move every six months on national security grounds.
Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right. Trump, for his part, signed the waiver when faced with his first deadline in June. He will have to decide whether to sign it for the second time in his presidency on Monday. (While the official deadline is December 1, since that date fell on a Friday this year, the deadline is extended until after the weekend.)
Israel’s Channel 10 TV news, citing sources in Israel, said there were three camps in the White House with differing opinions on how to deal with the issue.
The first was pushing the president not to sign the waiver and start the process of moving the embassy, and also recognize Jerusalem at Israel’s capital. “It could happen” that the president “simply doesn’t sign” the waiver, Channel 10 reported Friday.
A second camp says don’t do anything, sign the waiver and don’t recognize Jerusalem as it would harm prospects for a peace process and hurt ties with Arab states. The third group is urging the president to sign the waiver, but make a symbolic gesture by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, the report said.