(Bloomberg) -- World leaders reacted with dismay after President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy there, amid concern the moves could ignite new violence and bury any hope for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Trump announced “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and that the U.S. would start the process of moving its embassy to the city.
Moments after he finished his address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a rare voice applauding the president, saying he was “profoundly grateful” to Trump on a “historic day.”
But politicians across the Middle East and Europe expressed their opposition, led by Palestinian officials.
Trump’s move will “serve the extremist groups’ agenda” and drag the region into “an endless religious war,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech on Palestinian TV. His main peace negotiator, PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat, said the steps closed doors for negotiations while “Trump tonight disqualified the United States of America to play any role in any peace process.”
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Iran denounced the U.S. move, as some protesters took to the streets of Amman and other provinces as well as Palestinian camps, according to news websites. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he rejected unilateral steps that jeopardize peace. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani told Trump that declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital will erode stability in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera television reported.
“The Kingdom expresses its denunciation and deep regret that the administration has taken this step, as it represents a great bias against the historic and permanent rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem,” said a statement from Saudi Arabia’s royal court reported by the Saudi Press Agency on Thursday. “The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hopes that the U.S. administration will reverse this action,” the statement said.
French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on a visit to Algiers the decision “contravenes all rules of international law,” adding that the short-term priority was to ensure people stayed calm as it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to continue the peace process. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni tweeted that Jerusalem’s future should be defined within the framework of a peace process.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is fraught with religious and political implications because the eastern sector of the city -- home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- is also claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state. Previous U.S. administrations had resisted moves that could be seen as prejudging the city’s final status, for fear of provoking violent reactions, alienating Muslim allies and further undermining already troubled peace efforts.
The international community regards Jerusalem’s eastern sector as occupied territory and says Jerusalem’s final status must be negotiated, not unilaterally declared. Palestinians have been stung by Trump’s decision, which they see as adopting Israel’s position without regard for their own.
Trump’s move is “null and void,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told state-run TRT television. Kalin called it “a very dangerous move that could open new wounds in the Middle East.” Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, according to live footage from Turkey’s state-run TRT television. Erdogan threatened this week to cut ties with Israel if Trump went ahead, calling Jerusalem a “red line” for Muslims.
Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said it was difficult to see what the U.S. would gain from the policy shift. “This is not a tweet. This is a very serious action on probably one of the most controversial and sensitive foreign policy issues," she said. Trump is “upending decades of international consensus over this for an end that no one quite can see.”
Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said Trump’s decision would prove self defeating to another of the president’s key Middle East policies -- confronting Iran.
The move “reinforces Iran’s argument that it and its allies have the right strategy to confront Israel," he said. “The Iranians know how to play on the Jerusalem issue and now you give a hand to Iran while you are confronting it? You are contradicting yourself.”
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