Monday 22 October 2018

President breaks with seven decades of policy

President Donald Trump. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Raf Sanchez

Donald Trump has told Arab leaders he plans to forge ahead with moving the US embassy to Jerusalem despite their warnings that it would derail Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and could spark violent protests.

The US president told Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and King Abdullah of Jordan that he would fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv and break with nearly seven decades of US Middle East policy.

The embassy is unlikely to move immediately but Mr Trump's decision to formally notify the Arab leaders appeared to signal that he is committed to the policy after months of deliberations. He is expected to make a speech on the issue today.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian leaders insist there is no hope of a peace agreement unless they are able to set up their own capital in East Jerusalem.

Israel insists the entire city is its "eternal and undivided capital".

His choice to move ahead comes in defiance of a chorus of international warnings from European and Middle Eastern leaders as well as former US officials and even ex-Israeli ambassadors to Washington.

King Abdullah, a close US ally, told Mr Trump that his "decision will have a dangerous impact on the security and stability of the Middle East" and will "undermine the efforts of the US administration to resume the peace process".

A spokesman for Mr Abbas condemned the move as an "unacceptable action". Mr Abbas immediately began a round of calls to Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and the Pope urging them "to intervene to prevent it from happening".

The Palestinians had threatened earlier in the day to walk away from peace talks if the White House made a unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker," said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Mr Abbas.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's president, also told Mr Trump he opposed the move, according to a spokesman.

Palestinian factions called for three "Days of Rage" beginning today in protest at the decision and Israeli security forces were bracing for potential unrest in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. US diplomats were ordered not to travel into Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank.

US embassies across the Muslim world have also been warned to prepare for protests.

The city of Jerusalem is home to the al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third holiest site in Islam.

US presidents since Harry Truman have all refused to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital or to move the US embassy there, insisting that the final status of the city can only be determined through peace talks between Israel and its neighbours.

All other Western countries hold the same position, so Mr Trump's decision would put the US at odds with many of its closest allies.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court handed a legal victory to Mr Trump, ruling his travel ban can be fully enforced pending an appeal.

The ban, now in its third iteration, bars travel to the US by residents of six predominantly Muslim countries - Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Seven of the court's nine justices agreed to lift two injunctions imposed by lower appeal courts two months ago that had partially blocked the ban while legal challenges to it continue. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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