Washington/ Occupied Jerusalem: US President Donald Trump reversed decades of American policy on Wednesday and recognised Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in defiance of warnings from around the world that the gesture risks creating further unrest in the Middle East.
In a speech at the White House, Trump said his administration would begin a process of moving the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem, which is expected to take years.
The status of Occupied Jerusalem — home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions — is one of the thorniest obstacles to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognised internationally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark” and urged other countries also to move their embassies in Israel to Occupied Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution, envisaging a Palestinian state in territory — the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Washington’s allies in the region warned of dangerous repercussions.
Pope Francis called for Occupied 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. A Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East.
Trump said his move is not intended to tip the scale in favour of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Occupied Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties.
He said he remained committed to the two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians if the parties want one.
Amid warnings of potential unrest in the Middle East, the president called on the region to take his message calmly and with moderation.
“There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement — but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation,” Trump said.
His announcement fulfills a core pledge of his election campaign last year. Trump said his move reflected the reality of [Occupied] Jerusalem as the center of Jewish faith and the fact that the city is the seat of the Israeli government.
Trump’s decision is likely to please his core supporters — Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who comprise an important share of his political base.
He acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Occupied Jerusalem. His predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had consistently put off that decision to avoid inflaming tensions in the Middle East.
Trump signed a waiver delaying the embassy move from Tel Aviv since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Occupied Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he did not support Trump’s “unilateral” decision to recognise Occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called for calm across the region.
“This decision is a regrettable decision that France does not approve of and goes against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council,” Macron told reporters at a news conference in Algiers.
“The status of [Occupied] Jerusalem is a question of international security that concerns the entire international community. The status of [Occupied] Jerusalem must be determined by Israelis and Palestinians in the framework of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations,” he said.
Macron, who has developed a good working relationship with Trump since taking office in May, spoke to the US leader earlier this week to try to convince him to change his mind.
“France and Europe are attached to a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — leaving side by side in peace and security within recognised international borders with [Occupied] Jerusalem the capital of both states,” he said, adding that Paris was ready to work with partners to find a solution.
He called for calm. “For now, I urge for calm and for everyone to be responsible. We must at all costs avoid violence and foster dialogue,” he said.