Wednesday 17 October 2018

Trump 'to recognise Jerusalem as Israel capital' despite international outcry

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

President Donald Trump will recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday, according to US officials.

The move, that comes comes despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition, would upend decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Mr Trump will instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, US officials said on Tuesday.

It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by US law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.

The officials said numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, will need to be finalised first.

Because of those issues, the embassy is not likely to move for at least three or four years, presuming there is no future change in US policy.

To that end, the officials said Mr Trump will sign a waiver delaying the embassy move, which is required by US law every six months.

He will continue to sign the waiver until preparations for the embassy move are complete.

The officials said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be an acknowledgement of "historical and current reality" - rather than a political statement - and said the city's physical and political borders will not be compromised.

They noted that almost all of Israel's government agencies and parliament are in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the US and other countries maintain embassies.

The US officials spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because they were not authorised to publicly preview Mr Trump's announcement.

Their comments mirrored those of officials who spoke on the issue last week.

The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences.

The US 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.

The mere consideration of Mr Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed US security warning on Tuesday.

America's consulate in Jerusalem ordered US personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.

Mr Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the US embassy.

However, US leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the US must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem, unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.

Key national security advisers - including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis - have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Mr Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.

Mr Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could be viewed as America discarding its longstanding neutrality 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.

Mr Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a "deal of the century" that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Mr Trump about Jerusalem's status as the "capital of Israel."

Within the Mr Trump's administration, officials on Tuesday fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the US 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.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Mr Trump in a phone call Monday that Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations on setting up an independent Palestine alongside Israel.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said actions undermining peace efforts "must be absolutely avoided."

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism, but it is also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible centre 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.

Press Association

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