Trump phones Sissi on Jerusalem moves as Abbas rallies world to intervene

Trump phones Sissi on Jerusalem moves as Abbas rallies world to intervene

In calls with Middle East leaders, US president expresses ‘intention’ to relocate embassy; officials say he will recognize capital but likely still sign waiver

US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)
US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday appealed to world leaders and the pope to prevent US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as US President Donald Trump phoned Middle East leaders to tell them he intends to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

Amid a frantic round of telephone diplomacy, Trump told Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Tuesday of his “intention” to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but did not give a time-frame.

US officials familiar with planning for a possible announcement on Jerusalem said they expect Trump to speak to the matter around midday Wednesday, although the specifics of what he will say were still being debated.

The officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected Trump would make a generic statement about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.”

They said they did not expect the president to use the phrase “undivided capital,” which would imply Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which is not recognized by the United Nations.

They also said Trump planned to sign a waiver delaying for another six months a US legal requirement to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But, they said Trump would likely give wide latitude to David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, to make a determination on when such a move would be appropriate. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.

Pope Francis meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA pool via AP)

Seeking to garner international support for opposing the move, Abbas later on Tuesday spoke with a number of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

In separate conversations with both leaders, Abbas stressed the need for “everyone to protect Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites,” the official PA news agency Wafa reported.

Abbas’s spokesman told Reuters the PA president also spoke with Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron and “urged them to intervene to prevent” the embassy move.

Trump, meanwhile, was continuing his phone calls to Middle East leaders, reaching out to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on the subject. He also spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, according to the White House.

Sissi’s spokesperson Bassam Radhi said Trump called the Egyptian leader to discuss the “planned decision to by the American administration to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

Sissi, according to his spokesperson, told Trump the Egyptian position is “to maintain the legal status of Jerusalem in the framework of international… decisions.”

The Egyptian leader affirmed “the necessity of not complicating the state of the region by taking measures that would undermine the chances for peace in the Middle East.”

The US president’s phone calls to the Middle East leaders came as vociferous Arab and opposition to any possible US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital continued to mount, and as European leaders expressed concern about harm to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Israeli flags flutter in the wind as the Dome of the Rock is seen in the background, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on December 5, 2017.(AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

As discussions continued on Tuesday, pressure from numerous quarters against full-on recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital appeared to have led to the possibility that Trump include comments in his speech that might mitigate the impact of the announcement.

Among the ideas under discussion were Trump giving a nod to Palestinian aspirations to have the capital of an eventual state in East Jerusalem or endorsing the concept of a two-state solution, something he has yet to do. It remained unclear whether any such comments would be included.

Meanwhile, opposition to any US policy change toward Jerusalem was building in the Arab and Muslim world.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the United States to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Such a step would be a “dangerous measure that would have repercussions” across the region, he said during a Cairo meeting of Arab League representatives.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gestures as he gives a speech at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on December 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a “red line” and that his country’s response “could go as far as us cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’ diplomatic adviser, said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

“If the Americans recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then this would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace and that they will have no credibility or role in this issue,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded comments yet by a Palestinian official.

Should recognition occur, “we will stop our contacts with them because such a step goes against our existence and against the fate of our cause,” Khaldi said. “It targets Muslims and Christians alike.”

Palestinian political factions led by Abbas’ Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday.

Key Washington ally Saudi Arabia also spoke out strongly against such a possible step. Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse, is crucial to any White House plans to promote a possible Mideast peace deal.

Saudi Arabia expressed its “grave and deep concern” about possible recognition.

In a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Foreign Ministry said that the kingdom affirms the rights of Palestinian people regarding Jerusalem, which it said “cannot be changed.”

On Monday, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states, said US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would constitute “naked aggression” against the Muslim and Arab world.

In Europe, Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday night that the fate of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Macron said Tuesday that he expressed concern about any possible unilateral US moves and that he agreed with Trump “to speak again shortly on this subject.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, said any actions that undermine Mideast peace efforts “must be absolutely avoided.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (R) pose for a group photo with EU foreign ministers at the European Union Council building in Brussels on December 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Emmanuel Dunand)

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. It later extended sovereignty over East Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel claims the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The city’s status is among the most difficult issues in the conflict. US traditional policy has been that its status must be negotiated between the two parties.

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