President Trump announced on Wednesday that the US 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 move broke with longtime US policy and, according to numerous world leaders and even Pope Francis, potentially threatened regional stability.
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-off Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there.
Palestinians and other Arab leaders want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.
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 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 thril 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, the 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.
“The president believes this is a recognition of reality,” said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. “We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact.”
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has led a relatively quiet effort to revive long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.