US President Donald Trump is likely to announce this week that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a senior administration official said on Friday, a move that would upend decades of American policy and possibly inflame tensions in the Middle East.
Despite the expected proclamation, which could take place on Wednesday, Trump is expected to again delay his campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The senior official and two other government sources said that final decisions have not yet been made.
The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on the city’s entirety, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.
Word of Trump’s planned announcement, which would deviate from previous US presidents who have insisted that Jerusalem’s status be decided in negotiations, drew criticism from the Palestinian Authority and is sure to anger the broader Arab world.
It could also unravel the US administration’s fledgling diplomatic effort, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to restart long stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and enlist the support of US-Arab allies.
There is a 'rare opportunity' for peace in the Middle East - Trump
Any move by the US to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would fuel extremism and violence, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday.
“Today we say very clearly that taking such action is not justified ... it will not serve peace or stability, but will fuel extremism and resort to violence,” Aboul Gheit said in a statement published on the Arab league’s website.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would “destroy the peace process” and “destabilize the region.”
Such a move, however, could help satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped Trump win the presidency and also please the Israeli government, a close US ally.
On Saturday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman posted a clip of Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to relocate the embassy. “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart. I hope we can celebrate this kind of an announcement before the Hanukka holiday,” he said.
Former Israeli prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, speaking about the issue over the weekend at the Saban Forum in Washington DC., said that he regretted the move didn’t happen “10, 20 or 65 years ago. I think that all embassies of all nations should be in Jerusalem, that is the natural situation.”
“I would be happy to hear that the embassy is moved, not just that there is a statement announcing the self-evident,” said Barak.
He continued, “I do not think that this alone will kill any option for [a peace deal],” adding therefore, “I do not think this is a consequential event especially if will be explained to [the Arabs] that it does not close the door on any future American effort.”
Trump’s impending decisions on Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, follow intense internal deliberations in which the president has personally weighed in, one White House aide said.
Trump is likely to continue his predecessors’ practice of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring the US embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two officials told Reuters on Thursday.
But seeking to temper his supporters’ concerns, another option under consideration is for Trump to order his aides to develop a longer-term plan for the embassy’s relocation to make clear his intent to do so eventually, the officials said.
It was unclear, however, whether any public recognition by Trump of Israel’s claim on Jerusalem would be formally enshrined in a presidential action or be more of a symbolic statement.
Trump pledged on the presidential campaign trail last year that he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But in June, Trump waived the requirement, saying he wanted to “maximize the chances” for a new US-led push for what he has called the “ultimate deal” of Israeli- Palestinian peace. Those efforts have made little, if any, progress so far and many experts are skeptical of the prospects for success.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
From 1948-1967 the city was divided, with Jordan controlling the eastern part of the city. Israel captured that part of the city during the Six Day War in June 1967 and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.
Arab governments and Western allies have long urged Trump not to proceed with the embassy relocation, which would reverse long-standing US policy by granting de facto US recognition of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.
Visiting Washington last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned lawmakers that moving the US embassy could be “exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration and desperation,” according to the Jordanian state news agency Petra.
Some of Trump’s top aides have privately pushed for him to keep his campaign promise to satisfy a range of supporters, including evangelical Christians, while others have cautioned about the potential damage to US relations with Muslim countries.