In a short speech delivered at the White House, Trump directed the state department to start making arrangements to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a process that officials say will take at least three years.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
Trump said: “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
|People watching US President's speech on TV. Photo: Reuters
The president’s announcement provoked condemnation from US allies, and a furious reaction from Palestinian leaders and the Muslim world. Within minutes of Trump’s announcement, US embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Germany and Britain issued security alerts urging Americans to exercise caution.
The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet on Friday to discuss the move, after a request by eight countries on the 15-member body, including the UK, Italy and France.
Trump stressed that he was not stipulating how much of Jerusalem should be considered Israel’s capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their own future state, and Trump did not rule out a future division of the city.
“We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved,” the president said.
But the move marks a break with years of US precedent – and with general global opinion, which sees the fate of Jerusalem as a matter for comprehensive “final status” negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump argued that continually delaying recognition and the embassy move by signing waivers, as his predecessors had done, had not brought peace any closer.
“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.”
Trump presented his decision as the recognition of “the obvious” and “the right thing to do”.
“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli supreme court,” he said. “It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.”
The president suggested that the acknowledgement of Jerusalem’s role in the state of Israel would actually have a positive effect on negotiations.
|Israeli flag flies overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. Donald Trump will recognise holy city as the capital of Israel according to White House officials. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA
“This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” Trump said, but he did not explain how it would help negotiations in the face of such an angry reaction from Palestinians and their supporters.
After announcing his order for the state department to start work on moving the US embassy, Trump sat down at a table in the White House diplomatic reception room and did something that seemingly had the opposite effect: signing another presidential waiver on the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which ordered the transfer of the diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv.
White House officials said there was no contradiction, and that the waiver signing was necessary to prevent a cut in state department funding stipulated by the act until the new embassy is actually opened. They said previous presidents had used the waiver to stop any progress on moving the embassy, while Trump was directing practical work to start.
In his speech, Trump said: “This will immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers, and planners, so that a new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace.”