Will Racke on December 5, 2017
President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiate a multi-year process of relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.
Trump will make the recognition in a speech Wednesday and direct the State Department to begin preparations for an embassy move, fulfilling a polarizing campaign promise. Administration officials did not offer a concrete timeline for the relocation, conceding that identifying a site, designing and building a facility, and securing the diplomatic compound would take a minimum of three to four years and likely much longer.
Although the announcement will mark a break from decades of U.S. policy, it reflects a “recognition of reality” about Jerusalem’s historic connection to the Jewish people and its position as the seat of the Israeli government, senior administration officials said on background.
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, but the entire city has been under Israeli control since 1967, when Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Since then, the U.S. has not officially taken a position on the disputed city, saying that a settlement must be determined through peace negotiations. No other country currently recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.
A 1995 U.S. law recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and says the American embassy should be located there. But the statute gives the president the authority to postpone the embassy relocation to “protect the national security interests” of the U.S.
Since the law was passed, consecutive administrations have issued periodic waivers to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
After Trump signed a six-month waiver in June, administration officials began to suggest that a policy shift would come at the next decision deadline in December. Talk of an announcement heated up in recent weeks, with Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials revealing that Trump was actively considering a plan to move the embassy.
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Trump phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several key Arab leaders Tuesday to inform them of his intentions on the embassy move. The announcement is expected to generate outrage throughout the Arab world, which considers East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The Trump administration says recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital will not weaken U.S. commitment to a two-state solution or change the official position that the city’s final borders should be negotiated through the peace process. Trump reiterated that stance during his conversations with Arab leaders, administration officials said.
Those reassurances are not likely to mollify Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or U.S.-friendly Arab leaders such as Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose government is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah warned Trump that moving the embassy there would have “dangerous repercussions” and would hamper U.S. leadership on peace talks, reports Reuters.
The State Department is preparing for a violent response to Trump’s announcement. The American Consulate General in Jerusalem declared Tuesday that U.S. government employees and their family members are prohibited from personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank.
U.S. citizens in Jerusalem were also advised to avoid large crowds or areas with an increased police presence.
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