First Published: 2017-12-06

Global concern mounts over Trump's Jerusalem plan
Plunging further into sensitive dispute over holy city, Donald Trump set to upend decades of careful US policy.
Middle East Online

Girl with Arabic that reads "Jerusalem is for us" painted on her face chants slogans in Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp, Beirut, Lebanon.

LONDON - Global concern mounted on Wednesday ahead of an announcement by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, with Pope Francis joining a list of leaders warning of the potential for dangerous fallout.

The move by Trump, set to come in a speech later Wednesday, would upend decades of careful US policy and ignore dire warnings of a historic misstep that could trigger a surge of violence in the Middle East.

A senior administration official said Trump would make the announcement at 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) from the White House.

"He will say that the United States government recognises that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"He views this as a recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality."

Plunging further into a decades-long dispute over a city considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians, Trump will also order planning to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"It will take some time to find a site, to address security concerns, design a new facility, fund a new facility and build it," the official said.

"It will be a matter of some years, it won't be months, it's going to take time."

The status of Jerusalem is a critical issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital.

In a frantic series of calls, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, France, Germany and Turkey all warned Trump against the move.

Anticipating protests, US government officials and their families have been ordered to avoid Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank.

Further warnings from world leaders came on Wednesday.

"I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days," Pope Francis said.

"Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims," he said, a day after speaking by phone with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The pontiff added that maintaining Jerusalem's status quo was important "in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to an already volatile world that is wracked by so many cruel conflicts".

British foreign minister Boris Johnson, speaking as he arrived for a NATO meeting in Brussels, said "we view the reports that we have heard with concern, because we think that Jerusalem obviously should be part of the final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a negotiated settlement."

China warned the plan could fuel tensions in the region and Turkey said it risked igniting a "fire" in the Middle East.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said he had called for a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the main pan-Islamic body, in Istanbul on December 13 "to display joint action among Islamic countries" over Jerusalem.

Jordan and the Palestinians also called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, with a diplomatic source saying it was likely to be convened on Saturday.

But in a surprise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from commenting on the issue on Wednesday in his first speech since Trump's plan was confirmed.

Trump's move comes close to fulfilling a campaign promise, and will delight his political donors and the conservative and evangelical base so vital for the embattled president.

Most of the international community does not formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in final status negotiations.

US officials talk of "threading the needle" -- fulfilling Trump's campaign pledge, while keeping the peace process on the rails.

The White House argues that such a move would not prejudge final talks and would represent the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement.

"President Trump remains committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and is optimistic that peace can be achieved," a second US official said.

Trump "is prepared to support a two-state solution... if agreed to by the two parties."

Critics say Trump's approach could extinguish his own much-vaunted efforts to broker Middle East peace while igniting the flames of conflict in a region already reeling from crises in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar.

The armed Islamist Hamas movement has threatened to launch a new "intifada" or uprising.

Palestinians were calling for three days of protests starting from Wednesday, raising fears of potential unrest.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman warned his close ally that moving the US embassy was a "dangerous step" that could rile Muslims around the world.

Israel seized the largely Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its capital.

But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.

Trump was pushed to act on the embassy as a result of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stated that the city "should be recognised as the capital of the state of Israel" and that the US embassy should be moved there.

A waiver has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, postponing the move on grounds of "national security" once every six months, meaning the law has never taken effect.

Several peace plans have unravelled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem, with questions over the status of the city repeatedly sparking anger on both sides of the conflict.

 

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks

Iraq forces launch new push against IS desert holdouts

Iran cleric urges new intifada against 'occupying regime'

Heavy Israeli deployment ahead of Friday prayers

Saudi crown prince ‘bought’ $450 mn Da Vinci

Trump Jerusalem ploy sparks Palestinian protests

States pledge action, condemn Libya slavery

UN says Syrian males caught in ‘vicious cycle’ of sex abuse

Jerusalem move awkward for Arab allies of US

Niger repatriates nationals from Libya

Russia says mission to defeat IS in Syria ‘accomplished’

Jerusalem recognition brings little change and big risks

Qatar agrees to buy fighter jets from France amid Gulf crisis

Iraqi militia threatens US forces over Jerusalem provocation