WASHINGTON — Delighting Israel’s leadership and defying dire, worldwide warnings, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke with decades of US and international policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Despite urgent appeals from Arab and European leaders and the risk of anti-American protests and violence, Trump declared that he was ending an approach that for decades has failed to advance the prospects for peace. He also for the first time personally endorsed the concept of a “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians, provided both sides agree to it.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said in a White House address, calling it “overdue” and in the best interests of the United States. He said recognition acknowledged the “obvious” fact that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government despite the disputed status that is one of the key elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is nothing more or less than the recognition of reality,” he said.
Trump also directed that the State Department begin the process of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as required by US law. Officials said, however, that the move will take years to complete.
Trump maintained that his decision would not compromise the city’s geographic and political borders, which will still be determined by Israel and the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump, saying Israel was “profoundly grateful.”
“This is a historic day,” Netanyahu said in a video message. “We’re profoundly grateful for the president for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the US embassy here.”
Netanyahu said the move reflected Trump’s “commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”
Delivering his own address after Trump’s, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US could no longer be seen as a facilitator of peace talks.
“These reprehensible and rejected measures constitute a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts and represent a declaration that the United States has withdrawn from playing the role it has played in the past decades in sponsoring the peace process,” he said.
Turkey led Muslim opposition with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu calling it against international law.
“We condemn the irresponsible statement of the US Administration declaring that it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and it will be moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” he wrote on Twitter. “This decision is against international law and relevant UN Resolutions.”
Even America’s closest allies in Europe questioned the wisdom of Trump’s radical departure from the past US position, which was studiously neutral over the sovereignty of the city.
“This is a regrettable decision that France does not approve of and goes against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke out against what he called “unilateral measures” that jeopardize the prospect for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
“In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: there is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B,” he said, without mentioning Trump’s speech.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said work on moving the embassy would start immediately.
“We have consulted with many friends, partners, and allies in advance of the President making his decision. We firmly believe there is an opportunity for a lasting peace,” he said in a statement.
“The State Department will immediately begin the process to implement this decision by starting the preparations to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
However, he also said the US was gearing up for unrest in response to the decision.
“The safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and in concert with other federal agencies, we’ve implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions,” Tillerson said.
Ahead of Trump’s speech, Arab and Muslim leaders spoke about the potential for violence. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their “eternal capital,” language that Israelis similarly use for their nation.
Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It’s also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered protests in the past, in the Holy Land and beyond.
America’s consulate in Jerusalem has ordered US personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.
Jerusalem hospital Shaare Zedek told emergency room staff to prepare for possible violence that could break out following the speech Wednesday night.
Staff were asked to be “on call” for the next three days in anticipation of increased casualties in clashes in and around Jerusalem.