President Donald Trump has just told Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he will be moving our US embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This has sparked ample controversy around the world, seeing that it may mean Trump intends to name Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Jerusalem has long been contested between Jews and Muslims, with Jews naming it the Temple Mount, a sacred place in their religion, and Muslims naming it Haram al-Sharif, a holy site in their religion. Naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel could spark riots and violence throughout the Muslim communities around the world.
Daily Mail reports:
Donald Trump told Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that he intends to move America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority made the announcement via the state-run WAFA news service shortly after the two leaders spoke.
The White House told reporters in the morning that Trump had scheduled calls with Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Spokespersons for the president and his National Security Council did not respond to requests for more information, but Trump is widely expected to make a speech on Wednesday in which he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
‘Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received a phone call from U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, informing him of his intention to transfer the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,’ WAFA reported, according to an English translation.
‘Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said that President Abbas warned of the dangers of such a decision on the peace process, security and stability in the region and the world.’
Separately, Rudeina said in a statement that ‘the Palestinian stance is determined and steadfast – there will not be a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital according to decisions by the international community.’
‘Abu Mazen [Abbas] is now holding an emergency meeting in his bureau following the phone conversation with Trump.’
Trump faces a semi-annual deadline on Friday imposed by a 1995 law written to force then-president Bill Clinton to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem.
Congress inserted a yawping loophole, writing that the White House can waive the requirement by declaring every six months that keeping it in Tel Aviv is in America’s ‘national security interests.’
Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump have all exercised that option.
But as the latest deadline loomed last week, Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech that Trump ‘is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.’
Trump’s coming acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a move seen by some as a consolation prize from a president who’s not yet ready to make the larger commitment.
But the WAFA report raises the possibility that Trump will ride his china-shop bull persona into history instead – and causing a new kind of turmoil in the Middle East.
It’s unclear from the report whether Trump told Abbas that he would move the embassy soon or in the more distant future.
The White House isn’t saying either.
It has become commonplace for the Trump White House to hold back official accounts of high-stakes calls with world leaders, giving their governments the chance to publicly cast the discussions in whatever light they want.
Last month Turkey’s foreign minister announced after one such call that Trump had promised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the U.S. wouls stop arming Kurdish fighters in Syria.
The White House’s ‘readout,’ a publicly released summary, made no specific mention of that.
American embassies around the world have been on heightened alert this week over potential violence as Trump mulls how far to go – whether to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and even move the U.S. embassy there.
The possibilities have stirred opposition from American diplomats and foreign officials.
Such a decision, which U.S. officials have said has not been finalized, would violate decades of American policy not to take a stance on the fate of Jerusalem – on the grounds that this was an issue Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate and decide.
Changing course could spark demonstrations or violence by Palestinians or by Muslims around the world, in part because of the sensitivity of the Jerusalem site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.
The site includes the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, and the golden Dome of the Rock.
It was also the site of an ancient Jewish temple, the holiest place in Judaism.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, which includes the area, during a 1967 war.
However, the Waqf, a Muslim religious body, manages the Islamic sites within the compound.
A senior U.S. official told Reuters last week that Trump was likely to make the announcement on Jerusalem being Israel’s capital on Wednesday, though his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Sunday said no final decision had been made.
Kushner is leading Trump’s efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, efforts that so far have shown little progress.
The White House said it would not take any action on Monday on whether to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, something that Trump had promised to do in his presidential campaign.
Trump is expected to sign the waiver, according to several US officials.
One US official said Trump was likely to accompany the signing with an order for his aides to begin serious planning for an eventual embassy move, though it was unclear whether he would establish a strict timetable.
Two other US officials said on condition of anonymity that news of the plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had kicked up resistance from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA), which deals with the region.
‘Senior (officials) in NEA and a number of ambassadors from the region expressed their deep concern about doing this,’ said one official, saying that the concerns focused on ‘security.’
‘The impending Jerusalem announcement has me very worried about the possibility of violent responses that could affect embassies,’ a State Department official told Politico.
‘I hope I’m wrong.’
A fourth U.S. official said America’s consensus intelligence estimate on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that it would risk triggering a backlash against Israel, and also potentially one against American interests in the Middle East.
The core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute include borders, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Islamist Hamas, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
U.S. allies voiced their misgivings about the United States unilaterally calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital.
‘Any US announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,’ Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron ‘expressed his concern over the possibility that the United States would unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel’ during a phone call with Trump on Monday, Macron’s office said after the two leaders spoke by telephone.
And in an unusually detailed statement published by Jordan’s official news agency Petra, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was quoted as having warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson against the move in a call on Sunday.
Safadi said such a move would ‘trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,’ Petra reported.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, said a formal US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be the ‘kiss of death’ to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘Should such a step be taken it would have catastrophic consequences,’ Zomlot told Reuters.
A fifth US official said concerns of Palestinian and other Arab leaders about endorsing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem were being taken into account but no final decisions had been made.
Daniel Benjamin, a former US counterterrorism official now at Dartmouth College, had a simple message: ‘This is playing with fire.’