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Israel braced for violence as President Trump announced Wednesday a controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the lengthy process of moving the U.S. Embassy there.
The news fueled international concern with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas calling the decision in a televised speech “a declaration of withdrawal from the role (the U.S.) has played in the peace process.”
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza called for three “days of rage,” Al Jazeera reported Wednesday. Despite demonstrations that drew hundreds of Palestinians to the streets in Gaza City, there were few reports of violence.
Trump’s announcement from the White House fulfills a campaign promise and upends decades of U.S. foreign policy over contested Jerusalem. West Jerusalem is where Israel’s government is based, but Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. For that reason, every U.S. president since Israel’s founding in 1948 has located the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Trump is also instructing the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
Citing safety concerns, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem restricted government employees and their families from personal travel to Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank. The State Department also advised American diplomatic posts in predominantly Muslim countries to be vigilant about possible protests.
Abbas warned that changing the status of Jerusalem would have “dangerous consequences” for the “security and stability of the region and of the world.”
Abbas’ ruling Fatah Party tweeted images Tuesday of demonstrators burning photographs of Trump in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. And Ismail Haniya, the head of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, said Washington’s decision would be a “dangerous escalation” that crosses “every red line.”
The White House says the president is expected to make an announcement on whether the U.S. Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem. (Dec. 5)
Trump appears to view the move as a way to help secure what he has called the “ultimate deal” — peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House in a briefing Tuesday described the decision a “recognition of reality.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Facebook video ahead of Trump’s Wednesday speech that Israel’s “historical and national identity is receiving important expressions every day, but especially today.”
Netanyahu said later Wednesday that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is “important step toward peace.”
More: Trump will begin process to move U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
International opposition to the move has grown.
The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that changing Jerusalem’s status would amount to “naked aggression” against the Arab and Muslim world. The head of the Arab League said it would be a “dangerous measure that would have repercussion” across the entire Middle East.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: “That they claim they want to announce (Jerusalem) as the capital of occupied Palestine is because of their incompetence and failure.”
“Palestine will be free; and the Palestinian people will be victorious,” Khamenei added on his official website.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud told Trump in a phone call that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or relocating the U.S. Embassy “would constitute a flagrant provocation of Muslims, all over the world.”
There were also warnings from Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In recent days, the European Union, Germany and France have all implored Trump not to take action on Jerusalem.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she intended to speak to Trump about Jerusalem, which she believes “should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states.”
“The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said.
Pope Francis said he hoped the “status quo of the city” would be respected, asking that “wisdom and prudence prevail.”
“I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days,” he said at his weekly audience at the Vatican.
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has ordered its personnel and their families not to conduct personal travel to Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank due to fears of unrest over an expected U.S. announcement. (Dec. 5)
While Palestinians may hold demonstrations and Arab leaders condemn it, violent Islamist extremist groups generally have not rallied to the Palestinian cause, said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst and vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator, said groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are more concerned with confronting regional Arab governments, with killing Christians and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, and fighting to preserve their territories.
“Al-Qaeda has left the Israelis alone through three Gaza wars,” he noted.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the move would help strengthen his country. “On behalf of the city of Jerusalem, the beating heart and soul of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Barkat said in The Jerusalem Post.
“This historic step will send a very clear message to the world that the United States stands with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” he said.
More: Jerusalem has history of many conquests, surrenders
More: Why declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may upend peace in Middle East
Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara in London
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