PRESIDENT TRUMP has announced that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that he will move the American embassy there once a location is secured.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said from the White House.
The president said that since 1995, when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, his predecessors had delayed implementing the act because of fears that it would harm efforts to achieve a peace agreement in the Middle East, Bill Clinton had promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem in the 1990s.
Mr Trump, added, “after more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
The move broke with longtime US policy and, according to numerous world leaders and even Pope Francis, potentially threatened regional stability.
But the commander-in-chief insisted it did not signal a shift away from America’s goal of a workable peace in the volatile region.
“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.
“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians,” he said.
Trump directed the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem’s status has been a stumbling block in decades of on-and-off Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
A Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East.
Pope Francis called for Jerusalem’s “status quo” to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts.
China and Russia expressed concern that the plans could aggravate Middle East hostilities.
Washington’s allies in the region have all warned against the dangerous repercussions of Trump’s decision.
Turkey said it could go as far as breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel if the US move went forward.
A government spokesman said it would plunge the region into “a fire with no end in sight.”
Trump will sign a national security waiver delaying a physical move, since the US does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into.
A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.
But Trump’s decision, a core pledge of his election campaign last year and a move that will thrill his evangelical base, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a “two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Facebook: “Each day there are very significant manifestations of our historic national identity — but today especially so. And I will have more to add on this later today, on a matter related to Jerusalem.”
The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution.
“He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel,” Manuel Hassassian, chief Palestinian representative to Britain, told BBC radio.
Senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel’s favor and that agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: that Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.