U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, hailing it as “very fresh thinking” and a repudiation of “the same failed strategies of the past” employed by his predecessors.
“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said from the White House.
Trump also said he would direct the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
While Trump is fulfilling campaign promises domestically on both decisions, the U.S. risks infuriating the Muslim world, potentially sparking protests that could fray American alliances in the volatile Middle East.
Reactions from leaders in both the Mideast and around the world had already ranged from concern to alarm in anticipation of Trump’s announcement.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged matters separating the Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides stake claims. Israel captured east Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, in a move not internationally recognized.
The U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, but every president since then has signed waivers to hold off moving the embassy.
Trump says U.S. ‘committed’ to peace
“After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement,” Trump said Wednesday.
The embassy move would take years, experts believe.
While acknowledging the policy shift could lead to disagreement and dissent, Trump said it should not be interpreted as being one-sided.
The U.S. was still “deeply committed” to facilitating a lasting peace agreement between the U.S. and the Palestinians, the president said. His message comes after he moved to restrict travel to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries. Last week, his retweets about Islamist violence also proved controversial.
Netanyahu, Macron, UN react
In reaction to Trump’s announcement Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a pre-recorded speech that he was “profoundly grateful,” calling it an essential step towards a peace process.
“There is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres decried Trump’s move and said he would “do everything in my power to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to meaningful negotiations.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, at a news conference in Algiers, called Trump’s announcement a “regrettable decision” that “goes against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council.”
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan also criticized the U.S. president’s move.
“There will be no lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians unless both parties’ rights and claims are respected in the historic city of Jerusalem,” said Annan. “I deeply regret today’s decision by the U.S. president.”
Annan also urged those opposed to the decision to act “with restraint.”
Shortly before Trump made his speech, the U.S. State Department issued a cable to all its diplomatic posts worldwide, asking its officials to defer non-essential travel to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank until Dec. 20, according to a copy of the cable seen by Reuters.
“Embassy Tel Aviv and Consulate General Jerusalem request that all non-essential visitors defer their travel to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank from December 4-December 20, 2017,” said the cable, which did not specify a reason for the request.