Yet of all the issues that have defied resolution despite decades of talks between Palestinians and Israelis, the final status of Jerusalem — with its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and warring claims dating back to the Crusades and the Romans — has been uniquely nettlesome.
The United States has taken pains to refrain from recognizing the Holy City as Israel’s capital precisely to avoid being seen as prejudging the outcome of peace talks, in which Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem the seat of their eventual government.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said dispensing with that longstanding reticence would reveal the United States as “so incredibly one-sided and biased” that it “would be the total annihilation of any chances of peace, or any American role in peacemaking.”
“They’re sending a clear message to the world: We’re done,” she said.
While physically moving the embassy would require little more than putting a new sign on existing American consular offices in Jerusalem, Mr. Trump’s declaring Jerusalem the capital would carry great symbolic power, Palestinian officials said.
“If anything, it is worse, actually,” said Nasser al-Kidwa, a member of the central committee of Fatah, the dominant P.L.O. faction, and a nephew of its Yasir Arafat, its onetime leader. Recognition matters, he said, “not the stones” of an embassy building.
Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to Ismail Haniya, leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, was similarly critical of Mr. Trump’s expected declaration. “I don’t understand why he wants to antagonize over a billion Muslims around the world,” he said.
The specific way in which Mr. Trump makes his declaration, however, could mean a dramatically different response on both sides of the conflict.
If he just refers to “Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, or refers to the city’s present municipal borders, Mr. Trump would be likely to set off a strong backlash in much of the Arab world, analysts said.
“For Palestinians, this will be perceived as dividing the cake while negotiating over it,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst at International Crisis Group.