President Donald Trump is expected to make a key policy announcement next week on the U.S. position on the status of Jerusalem, a decision that may have dramatic repercussions for the delicate peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump has neglected to follow through on his promise in his first months in office, but facing a deadline next week, White House officials have signaled that the president might finally move forward with the plan. In an address last week, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump was “actively considering” how to make the change.
Jerusalem contains holy sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the city’s governance has long been contested. Israel has de facto control of the city since seizing its eastern part from Jordan in 1967, but the international community has refused to recognize that authority. Both Israelis and Palestinians consider the city their capital.
The U.S. government has taken the stance that Israelis and Palestinians should determine the city’s status on their own. Maintaining the embassy in the undisputed city of Tel Aviv has ensured that the U.S. wasn’t seen to be taking a stance on Jerusalem’s final status.
While Congress passed a law in 1995 requiring the U.S. embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem, every president since has signed a national security waiver every six months to delay the move. Like Trump, former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton made vows to move the embassy but later decided not to pursue the relocation when faced with possible political repercussions.
Trump, too, deferred the decision when the six-month deadline arrived in June. The deadline for renewal is approaching next week.
Moving the embassy could jeopardize Trump’s expressed hopes for his administration to spearhead a peace process under the stewardship of White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“We have spent a lot of time listening to and engaging with the Israelis, Palestinians and key regional leaders over the past few months to help reach an enduring peace deal,” Jason D. Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, told The New York Times in November.
Greenblatt noted that the U.S. would not “impose a deal” but rather work to “facilitate … a lasting peace agreement to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and security across the region.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the American embassy “needs to be” in Jerusalem and would likely be happy to see Trump, who he praised as a “true friend of the State of Israel,” make good on his promise.
But current and former foreign policy officials warn that the region could face disastrous security repercussions should the Trump administration move the embassy to Jerusalem.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordanian King Abdullah II and senior Palestinian official and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat have all warned against the move.
During his last weeks on the job, Kerry said placing the embassy in Jerusalem would cause an “absolute explosion” in the region and provoke widespread diplomatic backlash.
King Abdullah II warned that the move could spark violence from Palestinians who have sought to secure the eastern part of the city as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Erekat said last year that the move would mean “the destruction of the peace process as a whole.”
Mustafa Alani, a scholar at the Gulf Research Center, said moving the embassy could send the wrong signal as to Trump’s willingness to work with Arab nations.
“This is a sign that he’s going to side with Israel,” Alani told The New York Times. “If he does it, it’s going to be a wrong start for his relationship with the Arab world.”
Khaled Elgindy, a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, also warned in an op-ed that an embassy move could embolden extremists and affirm “the narratives of groups like ISIS and al-Qaida that the United States and Israel are waging a war against Islam.”
Amid the back and forth about whether Trump would sign the waiver or move the embassy, U.S. officials have indicated that the president may choose a third path and instead recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without moving the embassy.
On Friday, the Palestinian Liberation Organization released a statement on Twitter by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian presidency.
“To move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize the city as the capital of Israel, both are equally dangerous to the future of the peace process & push the region into instability,” the statement read.
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh in response to media reports: to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize the city as the capital of Israel,both are equally dangerous to the future of the peace process & push the region into instability https://t.co/QqE6k4OIy3
— Palestine PLO – NAD (@nadplo) December 1, 2017
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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