With a ceremony to dedicate the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem drawing closer, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas said at the weekend his self-rule government will not allow the U.S. or any other country to move its embassy to the city.
In comments reported by the official P.A. news agency Wafa, Abbas said his government would “fight” President Trump’s decision.
“Palestine’s government will fight against Trump’s decision and not let any country to move its embassy to Jerusalem until Palestine-Israel issue is resolved,” he was quoted as telling a medical conference in Ramallah.
“From the outset, we have stated that East Jerusalem is the capital of our state and will be open to all religions to practice their rituals freely,” said Abbas, who heads both the P.A. and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In fact, while Palestinian leaders in recent decades have portrayed Jerusalem as central, non-negotiable demand, that is a relatively new position. When the PLO – which since 1975 has been recognized by the U.N. as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” – drafted its founding charter half a century ago, the document contained not a single reference to Jerusalem.
After the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, a war launched by its Arab neighbors ended with Jerusalem divided – Israel controlling western portion and Jordanians controlling the east, including the Old City and Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.
Jordanian control lasted until 1967, when Israel captured the whole city, reuniting it as its capital – a decision condemned and not recognized by the international community.
On May 14 this year, the 70th anniversary in the Gregorian calendar of Israel’s independence, the U.S. government in a break with international consensus plans to hold an official ceremony opening its embassy in an existing U.S. consular facility, which straddles what was no-man’s land between Israeli- and Jordanian lines from 1948 to 1967.
Trump last December announced the decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv, and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Next month’s move will come 19 years after the deadline set in U.S. legislation for the United States to take the step. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which passed by large majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, required the president to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, failing which the State Department would lose half of the funds appropriated for its acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad.
Instead, President Clinton and presidents since have relied on six-month national security waivers to avoid complying.
The Palestinians and their supporters are furious at Trump’s decision to end his predecessors’ policy.
PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat said the decision to move the embassy reflects the Trump administration’s determination to “destroy the peace process and the two-state solution.”
At a press conference in Ramallah on Saturday, he said the administration was no longer a peace partner and sponsor, Wafa reported.
Erekat urged all countries not to give in to what he called U.S. “pressure” to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem.
“The threatening and extortion practiced by the Trump administration comes in defense of the grave violations committed by Israel against international law and international legitimacy, leading the region to chaos and violence,” he charged.
The only country to have formally announced it will follow Trump’s example is Guatemala. President Jimmy Morales said in Washington last March his country will move its embassy two days after the U.S. does so next month.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, addressing foreign diplomats in Jerusalem Friday for the 70th independence day (Hebrew calendar) celebration, disclosed that “at least half a dozen countries” were seriously considering moving.
“I’m delighted to say that there are at least half a dozen countries that are now seriously discussing with us moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said. “And thank you Guatemala for doing that. There will be others to follow.”
Netanyahu praised Trump for his stance.
“We are delighted with President Trump’s decision to move the embassy here,” he said. “It says a simple thing: Peace must be based on truth.”
Netanyahu observed that he was speaking at the residence of Israel’s president, in Jerusalem, and that his own office and the seat of government were all located in Jerusalem.
“Recognizing reality is the way you build peace. You cannot build peace on a foundation of lies because it crashes on the rocks of reality,” he said. “It’s important to establish those principles that will ultimately guide peace – that Israel has a capital, that the Jewish people have had a capital for 3,000 years, and that it’s called Jerusalem, is uncontestable. It’s time to recognize that fact.”
Netanyahu did not name the countries he said were in discussions about moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
In recent months the president of the Czech Republic indicated a desire to do so, as has the Romanian government – although Romania’s president and cabinet are evidently in disagreement over the issue.
Some Australian politicians, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have called on their government to move Australia’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And lawmakers in Honduras have passed a non-binding decision to move their country’s embassy.
Honduras and Guatemala were among just eight countries to vote with the United States last December when the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Trump’s Jerusalem decision and demanding he rescind it. The other six were Israel, the small African nation of Togo, and the Pacific island states of Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia.