WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump forged ahead today with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests.
Trump also told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It remained unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.
For now, U.S. officials familiar with Trump’s planning said he would immediately declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences.
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem 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 the expected U.S. announcement. The consulate said government employees could still travel to those areas for essential business but only with additional security.
The warning also urged American citizens to avoid large crowds or areas with increased police or military presence.
The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state’s claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.
Trump’s recognition could be viewed as America discarding that longstanding position and siding with Israel at a time that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a “deal of the century” that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.” The president isn’t planning to use the phrase “undivided capital,” according to the officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would imply Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek for their own future capital.
Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it’s also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.
Within the Trump administration, officials Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president’s expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments. Already, the State Department has warned U.S. embassies and consulates in the Muslim world of the possibility of Trump’s announcement provoking unrest.
In his calls to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump delivered what appeared to be identical messages of intent. Both leaders warned Trump that moving the embassy would threaten Mideast peace efforts and security and stability in the Middle East and the world, according to statements from their offices. The statements didn’t speak to Trump’s plans for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the U.S. to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, warning of “repercussions.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament such recognition was a “red line” and that Turkey could respond by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. partner in the Arab world, expressed its own “grave and deep concern.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday that Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations on setting up an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Meeting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said actions undermining peace efforts “must be absolutely avoided.”
Trump has made no secret of his desire to meet a campaign promise to establish a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and in recent days top aides have stressed it is “not a question of if, but when.” Officials have described Trump’s determination to fulfill his pledge as driving discussions on the embassy and possible recognition of Jerusalem, not any grander vision for how to instantly redraw Israel’s boundaries.
The officials familiar with the internal conversations have described key national security advisers, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as urging caution. They say Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.
As a result, instead of immediately ordering the embassy’s relocation, the U.S. officials said Trump on Wednesday is likely to sign a waiver pushing off any announcement of moving the embassy to Jerusalem for another six months. Such delays have occurred unceremoniously since a U.S. law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 stipulated that the United States must move the embassy unless the president waives the requirement on national security grounds.
Trump also will give wide latitude to his ambassador in Israel, David Friedman, to make a determination on when a Jerusalem embassy would be appropriate, according to the officials. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.
As international pressure has mounted, officials have said Trump could try to limit the impact of anything he says on Jerusalem. Among the ideas under consideration: A Trump nod to Palestinian “aspirations” for a capital in east Jerusalem or his endorsement of a two-state solution to the conflict, something he hasn’t clearly given. The officials said it’s unclear if any of that might be included.
Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’ diplomatic adviser, said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator.
“This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded reaction by a Palestinian official. He said such recognition would lead the Palestinians to eliminate contacts with the United States.
Palestinian political factions led by Abbas’ Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday. East Jerusalem, now home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed in a move most of the international community has not recognized.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan; Josh Lederman in Brussels; Elaine Ganley in Paris; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.