America’s friends and foes have unleashed fierce criticism ahead of President Donald Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While Israel welcomed the news, Palestinian officials declared the Middle East peace process “finished” and Turkey announced it would host a meeting of Islamic nations next week to give Muslim countries’ leaders an opportunity to co-ordinate a response.
The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting on Saturday. The harsh global reaction cast questions about the feasibility of a brewing US peace plan that is expected to be presented by the White House in the near future.
The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state and fear that Mr Trump’s declaration essentially imposes on them a disastrous solution for one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There is no way that there can be talks with the Americans. The peace process is finished. They have already pre-empted the outcome,” said Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi. “They cannot take us for granted.” The US decision “destroys the peace process”, added Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.
US officials said late on Tuesday that Mr Trump will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests. Mr Trump was expected to unveil his plan in a speech later on Wednesday.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Facebook: “Our historical national identity is receiving important expressions everyday.”
Education minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, praised what he called Mr Trump’s “bold and yet natural” move. “The sooner the Arab world recognises Jerusalem as our capital, the sooner we will reach real peace.
Real peace that is not predicated on an illusion that we are going to carve up Jerusalem and carve up Israel,” Mr Bennett said. International leaders, however, swiftly criticised Mr Trump’s plan.
Pope Francis said he was “profoundly concerned” and appealed that “everyone respects the status quo of the city”.
China, which has good ties with Israel and the Palestinians, expressed concerns over “possible aggravation of regional tensions”. Russia, a key Middle East player, expressed its concern about a “possible deterioration”. Two leading Lebanese newspapers published front-page rebukes of Mr Trump.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “whole world is against” Mr Trump’s move, and the supreme leader of Iran, Israel’s staunchest enemy, condemned Mr Trump. The state TV’s website quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying that “the victory will ultimately be for the Islamic nation and Palestine”.
Iran does not recognise Israel, and supports anti-Israeli militant groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who had already expressed concern about the US decision, said it was now time for the Americans to present their peace plan for the region.
Mr Trump’s Middle East team, led by his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, has spent months meeting with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders. Details of their long-awaited plan remain a mystery.
In his speech, Mr Trump is expected to instruct the state department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. It remained 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, could take three or four years to sort out. To that end, the officials said Mr Trump would delay the embassy move by signing a waiver, 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 the decision was merely an acknowledgment 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.
Still, the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital carries deep symbolic significance and could have dangerous consequences. The competing claims to east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967, have frequently boiled over into deadly violence over the years.
East Jerusalem is home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, as well as its 330,000 Palestinian residents. The United States 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.