America’s friends and foes unleashed fierce criticism on Wednesday ahead of President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital which is expected lunchtime Wednesday.
While Israel welcomed the news, Palestinian officials declared the Mideast peace process ‘finished’ and Turkey announced it would host a meeting of Islamic nations next week to give Muslim countries’ leaders an opportunity to coordinate a response.
In Gaza, U.S. and Israeli flags were burned and in the West bank Hamas declared Friday a ‘day of rage’, raising the specter of mass violence in the occupied territories.
The Pope made a plea for Trump to rethink urgently and spoke out at his weekly general audience in Rome .
‘I make a heartfelt appeal so that all commit themselves to respecting the status quo of the city, in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations,’ Pope Francis said.
The pope told thousands of people at his general audience: ‘I cannot keep quiet about my deep concern about the situation that has been created in the last few days.’
In the UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she would challenge the country’s closest ally.
‘I’m intending to speak to President Trump about this matter,’ May told MPs.
‘Our position has not changed, it has been a long standing one and it is also a very clear one.
‘It is that the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states.’
The harsh global reaction cast questions about the feasibility of a brewing U.S. peace plan that is expected to be presented by the White House in the near future.
Trump would effectively be making a declaration of war, the Palestinians’ chief representative to Britain said Wednesday.
‘If he says what he is intending to say about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, it means a kiss of death to the two-state solution,’ Manuel Hassassian said in a BBC radio interview.
‘He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims [and] hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel,’ Hassassian added.
THE WORLD REACTS TO TRUMP’S MOVE
‘I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts.’ – Pope Francis
‘Jerusalem obviously should be part of the final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians – a negotiated settlement that we want to see. We have no plans ourselves to move our embassy.’ – Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary
‘Our historical national identity is receiving important expressions every day.’ – Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister
‘He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims, hundreds of millions of Christians, that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel.’ – Manuel Hassassian, chief Palestinian representative to Britain
‘That they claim they want to announce [Jerusalem] as the capital of occupied Palestine is because of their incompetence and failure,’ – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state and fear that Trump’s declaration essentially imposes on them a disastrous solution for one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘There is no way that there can be talks with the Americans. The peace process is finished. They have already pre-empted the outcome,’ said Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi. ‘They cannot take us for granted.’
The U.S. decision ‘destroys the peace process,’ added Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Top Palestinian officials were meeting Wednesday to plot their course forward.
U.S. officials said late Tuesday that Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests. Trump was expected to unveil his plan in a speech later Wednesday.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Facebook that ‘Our historical national identity is receiving important expressions every day.’ He said he would comment further later in the day.
Other members of his Cabinet were more forthcoming. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, praised what he called Trump’s ‘bold and yet natural’ move.
‘The sooner the Arab world recognizes Jerusalem as our capital, the sooner we will reach real peace. Real peace that is not predicated on an illusion that we are going to carve up Jerusalem and carve up Israel,’ Bennett told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
International leaders, however, swiftly criticized Trump’s plan.
China, which has good ties with Israel and the Palestinians, expressed concerns over ‘possible aggravation of regional tensions.’
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a news briefing that the status of Jerusalem was a complicated and sensitive issue and China was concerned the U.S. decision ‘could sharpen regional conflict.’
‘All parties should do more for the peace and tranquility of the region, behave cautiously, and avoid impacting the foundation for resolving the long-standing Palestine issue and initiating new hostility in the region,’ Geng said.
Russia, a key Mideast player, expressed its concern about a ‘possible deterioration.’
Two leading Lebanese newspapers published front-page rebukes of Trump.
Britain’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, who had already expressed concern about the U.S. decision, on Wednesday said it was now time for the Americans to present their peace plan for the region.
‘Jerusalem obviously should be part of the final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians – a negotiated settlement that we want to see,’ Johnson said.
‘We have no plans ourselves to move our embassy.’
In Brussels Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to dampen down the reaction.
‘The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process,’ Tillerson told reporters at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
He said a small team led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner – a 36-year-old former property developer – has been ‘engaged in a quiet way’ in the region to try to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
‘We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved and the president has a team that is devoted to that entirely,’ Tillerson said.
Trump’s Mideast team have spent months meeting with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders. Details of their long awaited plan remain a mystery.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi says moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be ‘the death knell of any peace process’ https://t.co/GfVtsLxmcT
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 6, 2017
‘Clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward,’ Johnson told reporters in Brussels.
In his speech, Trump was expected to instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. It remained unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.
The officials said numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, could take three or four years to sort out.
To that end, the officials said Trump would delay the embassy move by signing a waiver, which is required by U.S. law every six months. He will continue to sign the waiver until preparations for the embassy move are complete.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity pending Trump’s announcement, said the decision was merely an acknowledgment of ‘historical and current reality’ rather than a political statement and said the city’s physical and political borders will not be compromised.
They noted that almost all of Israel’s government agencies and parliament are in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the U.S. and other countries maintain embassies.
Still, the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital carries deep symbolic significance and could have dangerous consequences. The competing claims to east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967, have frequently boiled over into deadly violence over the years.
East Jerusalem is home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, as well as its 330,000 Palestinian residents.
The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state’s claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.
The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America’s consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.
Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. Embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.
Key national security advisers – including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis – have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.
WHY IS JERUSALEM CONTESTED?
Jerusalem has been a contested site for centuries, and today three major world religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – lay claim to various holy sites and monuments there.
Crucially, Israel calls it its capital, but the Palestinians say the east of the city is their capital.
The establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel included its declaration of Jerusalem as the capital.
But the war which followed left the city split between west and east along religious lines.
For the two-thirds of Jerusalem residents who are Jews, they live in the world’s holiest city, the capital of the original Israelite Kingdom of Judah and the former location of ancient Jewish temples. The Western Wall, a site where Jews make pilgrimages to pray, is nearby.
Muslims, who comprise nearly all the rest, consider the walled Old City in Jerusalem sacred too. What Jews call the Temple Mount is known in Islam as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). It contains the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Palestinians controlled the site until Israelis captured it from Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967.
Christians are only about 2 per cent of Jerusalem’s population, but they see the city as the site of Jesus Christ’s cruxificion and resurrection from the dead.
Israelis consider Jerusalem – all of it – to be their ‘eternal capital.’
Palestinians want their own sovereign nation with East Jerusalem as its capital, and have made that a condition of pursuing a ‘two-state solution’ to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel’s Knesset passed a law in 1980 officially annexing East Jerusalem, but no other nation has ever recognized it as legal.
Most countries avoid the issue by having embassies in Tel Aviv which is Israel’s largest city and its economic capital.
Trump has spoken of his desire to broker a ‘deal of the century’ that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said the president’s speech was not aimed at resolving the conflict over Jerusalem.
He isn’t planning to use the phrase ‘undivided capital,’ according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials and would imply Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem.
One official also said Trump would insist that issues of sovereignty and borders must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. The official said Trump would call for Jordan to maintain its role as the legal guardian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places, and reflect Israel and Palestinian wishes for a two-state peace solution.
Elsewhere, however, reactions were skeptical, especially across the Muslim world. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the ‘whole world is against’ Trump’s move, and the supreme leader of Iran, Israel’s staunchest enemy, condemned Trump.
The state TV’s website quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying that ‘the victory will ultimately be for the Islamic nation and Palestine.’
Iran does not recognize Israel, and supports anti-Israeli militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
That they claim they want to announce Quds as the capital of occupied Palestine is because of their incompetence and failure,’ Khamenei said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem.