Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump faced down warnings of widespread Middle East unrest and untold damage to the peace process Tuesday, telling anxious Arab leaders he still intends to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Amid a frantic round of telephone diplomacy, Trump told Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah that the deeply controversial move was coming, but crucially did not give a timeframe.
Trump “informed the president (Abbas) on his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the Palestinian leader’s office said in a statement that was echoed in Amman.
Trump must this week decide whether to sign a waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv or fulfill a campaign promise and move it to Jerusalem — de facto recognizing Israel’s claim on the disputed city.
Such a move would please Trump’s conservative and evangelical donors and voter base.
US officials said he will hold off on moving the embassy right away, but may issue a statement reiterating his intent and even go as far as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
That could upend a decades-old western policy — observed by both Republican and Democratic presidents — that stated Jerusalem’s status can only be decided by negotiation.
The White House argues that such a move would not prejudge final talks and would represent the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement.
Still, it risks extinguishing Trump’s efforts to broker Middle East peace and igniting the flames of conflict in a region already reeling from crises in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar.
“Mr Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a raucous televised speech, echoing alarm expressed by Palestinian and Arab leaders.
In his address, Erdogan warned that any move to back Israel’s claim to the city would mobilize “the entire Islamic world” and even prompt Ankara to sever its recently-renewed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
The armed Islamist Hamas movement has threatened to launch a new “intifada” or uprising.
Most of the international community, including the United States, does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in final status negotiations.
– ‘A way must be found’ –
Following talks in Brussels with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini warned that any move which…