“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do,” Trump said from the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.
“After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result,” he added.
The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark,” but other close Western allies of Washington such as Britain and France were critical.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the United States abdicated its role as a mediator in peace efforts, and Palestinian secular and Islamist factions called for a general strike and rallies on Thursday to protest.
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, believing its status should be resolved in negotiations. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump’s decision fulfills a campaign promise and will please Republican conservatives and evangelicals who make up a sizeable portion of his domestic support.
The ramifications of Trump’s decision reverberated immediately through Israel, the West Bank and the Middle East, though senior administration officials have acknowledged it will take years for the US to build the new embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump ordered the State Department Wednesday “to begin preparations to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” noting his directive would allow the State Department to begin hiring architects and building contractors to build an embassy he said will be “a magnificent tribute to peace.”
While Trump underscored his announcement with an emphasis on US commitment to a peace deal, the move appeared to signal a reduced commitment on the President’s part to achieving one. Just two months earlier, Trump said he was delaying a decision on moving the embassy to Jerusalem to give peace “a shot.”
“I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” Trump had said in an interview with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in October, one of Trump’s evangelical conservative supporters.
And Trump appeared to acknowledge Wednesday that little progress has been made in his administration’s push for peace, as Trump said “we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians” than two decades earlier.
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem divided the President’s top advisers, with Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson privately arguing against unsettling the status quo, senior administration officials told CNN. Vice President Mike Pence, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed in favor of the move, the sources said.
The President’s top officials overseeing the US push for Israeli-Palestinian peace — son-in-law Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt — supported recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, but urged Trump to delay a move on the embassy, the sources said.
Trump’s announcement Wednesday notably took place without Tillerson at his side, while he was flanked by Pence, who had acted as a key liaison to the evangelical community as the decision was crafted.
The impending announcement sent US allies and US officials in the region scurrying to brace for protests and the potential for violence as a result of the announcement.
Palestinian factions called for three days of rage in response to the announcement and US officials issued security warnings for the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.
Arab leaders in the region and French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, expressed their deep misgivings about Trump’s move in phone calls with the US President on Tuesday, urging Trump to reconsider.