White House says Trump not to blame for protests over Jerusalem
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White House says Trump not to blame for protests over Jerusalem

Spokesperson calls Palestinian refusal to meet Pence ‘unfortunate’ but vows administration forging ahead with peace push

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Palestinian youths set a portrait of US President Donald Trump on fire after his  recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, during a demonstration outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on December 11, 2017.  (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian youths set a portrait of US President Donald Trump on fire after his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, during a demonstration outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on December 11, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

WASHINGTON — The White House deflected blame Monday for daily protests across the Muslim world and Europe against US President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and said a Palestinian boycott of meetings with US Vice President Mike Pence was “unfortunate.”

Trump is not to blame for the demonstrations, an administration spokesperson said Monday. The violent protesters are.

“We’re continuing to urge calm and we’re open and willing and want to continue meeting and discussing a peace deal [between Israelis and Palestinians],” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday afternoon, when asked during the daily press briefing about the rage Trump’s move elicited in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Violence is always going to be the responsibility of those who carried it out, not the president or anyone else,” she added.

Iranian protesters set US and Israeli flags on fire during a demonstration in Tehran on December 11, 2017 to denounce US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel upended decades of US foreign policy and sparked a harsh international backlash, including violent protests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and hotspots around the Muslim world. Several European cities also saw anti-Israel rallies, some of which veered into anti-Semitism.

In his address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump 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 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.

US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017. (AFP/ Saul Loeb)

Monday marked a fifth day of protests, with tens of thousands of supporters of the Hezbollah terror group rallying in Lebanon, while Palestinians in the West Bank threw stones at Israeli soldiers, though clashes have been less intense than some predicted.

There were low-level clashes Monday in Hebron and the Gaza Strip, where Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has urged a new intifada. The Red Crescent said roughly 27 Palestinians were wounded by either live fire or rubber bullets.

Despite proclamations from Palestinian leaders that Trump’s Jerusalem recognition would make the end of the two-state solution and destroy America’s role to be an honest mediator in negotiations, Sanders said the White House team tasked with trying to clinch a deal, led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was still working on that initiative.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally outside US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

“We urge individuals and groups to remain calm and we want to continue working with our partners, allies and others in the region to continue moving forward on the peace conversations,” she said.

But it is not clear whether the Palestinian leadership is hearing those requests. Over the weekend, a senior PA official, Jibril Rajoub, said the Palestinians will not be meeting with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region next week.  A PA spokesman later confirmed this.

“We find it unfortunate that they’re walking away from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Sanders said, in response to a question on that decision. “But the administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan and we’re going to continue pushing forward.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s foreign affairs adviser, Nabil Shaath, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that the PA was not completely severing its relationship with the United States, but only “interrupting” them in protest of Trump’s Jerusalem move.

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