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Trump says US recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel, sparking protests

By Tracy Wilkinson and Brian Bennett • Dec 6, 2017 at 2:45 PM

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will begin a process to transfer the U.S. Embassy to the ancient city, reversing decades of U.S. policy and defying sweeping international criticism.

“I have determined it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Trump declared in a speech at the White House. “This is nothing more than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.”

Trump called for calm even as he conceded his announcement, which he followed with a signed proclamation, would generate “disagreement and dissent.” It sparked protests in Palestinian territories and a fresh round of denunciations in foreign capitals worried about a new outbreak of violence in the volatile region.

Trump said his administration no longer would follow the “failed policies of the past.” And he took a swipe at previous presidents who failed to officially recognize Jerusalem.

“Some say they lacked courage. … After two decades, delaying recognition has done nothing to achieve peace,” he said. “It would be folly to assume repeating this would make a better result.”

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and until now, neither claim was widely recognized. Instead, the international consensus, backed by United Nations resolutions and all U.S. presidents, was to negotiate the city’s status as part of a peace deal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No other country has established an embassy in Jerusalem, and the White House said it would take several years to select a site and build the facility. But Trump’s announcement fulfilled a core campaign pledge, one critical to some conservative Jews and evangelical Christians in his base who believe the U.S. must do more to support Israel.

Trump insisted that his administration’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were not undermined by his decision.

Trump said the announcement isn’t intended to be a statement on the final boundaries that might be decided in a future peace deal and said the United States “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides,” the long-sought formula for a peace deal.

“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides,” Trump said. “I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.

“There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement, but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation.”

Many Israelis were ecstatic, praising Trump for recognizing the reality on the ground. The government of Israel has controlled all of Jerusalem since the 1967 war, and the Knesset and most government agencies are based there.

But Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their eventual independent state, were furious, as were U.S. allies throughout Europe and the Arab world.

Many Middle East experts in Washington also were dismayed by Trump’s plan to change U.S. recognition of a city revered as holy by all three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“There is no upside to this. What does he gain?” asked Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush. “And for them to say this could jump-start the peace process, it shows they don’t have a clue about peace” in the Middle East.

“It’s really all pain and no gain,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, an American group that lobbies on Israel from a liberal Jewish perspective. “The situation on the ground for the state of Israel and the Jewish people doesn’t change for the better.”

Martin Indyk, who served twice as U.S. ambassador to Israel and was a special Middle East envoy under President Obama, said Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital but delay moving the embassy was “an attempt to have it both ways.”

“It will please nobody,” Indyk said on CNN, “and it could well generate violence.”

Scattered violence was reported early Wednesday in Palestinian territories, including the burning of U.S. and Israeli flags in the Gaza Strip. U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the region were put on alert in anticipation of potential protests.

Palestinians declared “three days of rage,” pegged to peak after Friday prayers. U.S. officials also prepared for demonstrations outside the State Department headquarters in Washington.

Several world leaders argued that the move makes plain U.S. bias in favor of Israel and the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has offered fulsome praise for Trump.

Previous U.S. administrations have cast themselves as honest brokers in the Middle East, toiling endlessly to resolve one of history’s most intractable conflicts. The appearance now, at least in the Arab world, is that Trump has taken one side.

Trump’s critics said the Jerusalem move further isolates America in the global community. He also has vowed to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, making the United States the only country in the world not to back the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the move pleased some of Trump’s political supporters at home. John Hagee, a pastor who founded a group called Christians United for Israel, has met with Trump personally in the White House and advocated for Trump to move the embassy.

In his announcement Wednesday, Trump said he is instructing the State Department to begin a multiyear process for building a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, asking for money from Congress, choosing a site and designing the building.

For now, as previous presidents have done, Trump will sign a six-month waiver to a 1995 law that required the State Department to move the embassy from its current site in Tel Aviv.

Administration officials would not commit to a timetable, but one senior official said that opening a new U.S. embassy routinely takes three to four years.

Some former and current American diplomats had hoped Trump also would pledge to eventually build a U.S. embassy in East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state.

Condemnation and concern poured in from foreign leaders over the past week as news emerged of Trump’s plan.

“I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days,” Pope Francis said Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said early Wednesday she was trying to dissuade Trump.

“The status of Jerusalem should be determined as a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should be a shared capital,” she said.

Russia recognized west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in April and called for east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. On Wednesday, the Kremlin said it was “concerned” that Trump’s move would aggravate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO ally with Washington, declared that Jerusalem was a “red line” for the Muslim world. He threatened to cut Ankara’s diplomatic ties with Israel.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the decision was a “grave mistake.”

“It will not bring any stability (or) peace, but, rather, chaos and instability,” he told reporters after meeting with Tillerson on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels. “The whole world is against this.”

Tillerson defended the move, speaking in Brussels ahead of Trump’s announcement.

“The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process,” Tillerson said. “He has a team he put into place. That team has been working very diligently. … We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved.”

Trump made his case forcefully at a National Security Council meeting last week at the White House, officials said. Vice President Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued for recognizing Jerusalem, while Tillerson was among those who spoke against it, according to a White House official.

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©2017 Los Angeles Times

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