U.S. President Donald Trump looks towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while delivering an address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. .
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump called the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt on Tuesday to inform them of his intention to move the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 22 years after the US Congress called on the White House to do just that.
What Trump didn’t say, however, was when the move would take place, something that could provide some maneuvering room for him to try to tamp down Arab anger over the highly contentious step.
Trump is expected to address the “when” issue in a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday, during which there is also expectation that he will clarify that the move does not prejudge the final status of the city, which will be dealt with during negotiations.
The speech is set to come two days after the expiration of a six-month deadline for Trump to decide whether to sign a waiver that would keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for another half-year. A 1995 law passed by Congress mandated that the embassy be moved immediately to Jerusalem, unless the president signs a waiver every six months stipulating that for national security reasons the embassy should remain in Tel Aviv.
MKs agree that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. (The Israel Project)
The New York Times quoted American officials as saying that even though Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in his speech, it is not logistically possible to move the embassy immediately, so he will likely sign the waiver, keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for at least another six months.
With the IDF and police bracing for possible violence as a result of the developments, the US Consulate General in Jerusalem issued a directive prohibiting US government employees and their family members from traveling in Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank until further notice.
Trump spoke about the embassy move on Tuesday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Prime Minister’s Office did not put out a readout of that call.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem was one of Trump’ campaign pledges, and it is perceived to be a very important issue for a key component of his electoral base: evangelicals.
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said that Trump spoke about “his intention” to move the embassy. According to the official PA news site Wafa, Abbas warned Trump of “the gravity of the consequences” that the embassy move would have “for the peace process and security and stability in the region and world.”
Abu Rudeinah did not say if Trump informed Abbas when he plans to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials have said that the relocation of the embassy would spell the end of America’s role as an interlocutor in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a move “totally destroys any chance that he [Trump] can play a role as an honest broker,” Nabil Shaath, Abbas’s international affairs adviser, said on Tuesday.
The Palestinians have long opposed the relocation of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying such a move would serve as de facto recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They want east Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Fatah officials described Trump’s potential move as a “death knell” to a two-state solution and to any US role in its future diplomatic engagement with Israel.
“If Mr. Trump comes up and says ‘I recognize the united Jerusalem to be the capital of the state of Israel,’ he [will] have destroyed every chance that he will play to get the deal of century,” Shaath told reporters Tuesday.
Hamas, meanwhile, called for “a day of rage on Friday” to protest Trump’s intention to move the US embassy in Israel. Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh said the relocation of the embassy would be “a dangerous escalation” that gives “the extremist Netanyahu government cover to implement its criminal plans to Judaize Jerusalem.”
The IDF and the Israel Police were preparing for possible protests throughout the West Bank over the coming days.
Following Trump’s conversation with Abdullah, the Jordanian royal palace issued a statement saying that Trump “indicated his intention” to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Abdullah, according to the statement, warned of “preempting a comprehensive solution that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital,” and also “emphasized that Jerusalem is key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world.”
Abdullah said the “decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike.”
Abdullah spoke afterward to Abbas and reaffirmed “Jordan’s full support for the Palestinians in their efforts to preserve their historical rights in Jerusalem.” He also “called for working jointly to deal with the ramifications of this decision and to counter any action that undermines the Palestinian people’s aspirations for their own independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
Sisi, according to a Cairo presidential statement, cautioned Trump against “taking measures that would undermine the chances of peace in the Middle East.” According to the statement, “The Egyptian president affirmed the Egyptian position on preserving the legal status of Jerusalem within the framework of international references and relevant UN resolutions.”
Abbas also reached out to a number of international leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Pope Francis to rally support against Trump’s plan, Wafa reported.
Putin told Abbas that he supports the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians including on the status of Jerusalem, the Kremlin said.In addition, Abbas spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke with Trump about American policy pertaining to Jerusalem on Monday and Tuesday.
“[Abbas] expressed his appreciation for the efforts Macron is undertaking and France’s position that seeks a just peace and establishment of stability in the region,” Wafa reported.
Reuters contributed to this report.