International leaders have warned United States President Donald Trump that he risked outraging Muslims and jeopardising Middle East peace efforts if he recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moved the US embassy there.
Yesterday, Mr Trump informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of his “intention to move” the US embassy to the ancient holy city, Mr Abbas’ spokesman said.
Jerusalem’s status is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming the city as their capital.
Warnings multiplied yesterday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning Mr Trump in a speech that the status of Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims and could even prompt Turkey to cut ties with Israel.
Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said member states had decided to meet in Cairo, “given the danger of this matter, if it were to happen, and the possible negative consequences not only for the situation in Palestine but also for the Arab and Islamic region”.
US officials said Mr Trump was expected to stop short of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem outright – a central campaign pledge which his administration has postponed once already.
But domestic politics may still push him to break with decades of US policy, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital instead, in a gesture towards conservative voters and donors.
“The President has been clear on this issue from the get-go: It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, adding that a declaration on the move would be made “in the coming days”.
Mr Trump has said he wants to relaunch frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in search of the “ultimate deal” – but recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would destroy that effort, a senior Palestinian official warned.
“That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” Mr Nabil Shaath, an adviser to President Abbas, told reporters yesterday.
Palestinian leaders have been lobbying regional leaders to oppose any shift in US policy, and the armed Islamist movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new “intifada” uprising.
US ally Saudi Arabia voiced “grave and deep concern” over the possible move, while French President Emmanuel Macron earlier warned Mr Trump that Jerusalem’s status must be decided “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.
Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it.
It claims that both halves of the city are its “eternal and undivided capital”. But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of a Palestinian state.