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Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital of Israel, Shifting Policy

Justin Sink
US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017 as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced he would begin moving the U.S. embassy there, despite warnings from world leaders across the globe that the move would undermine peace efforts and spark violence.

“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the president said in a statement from the Diplomatic Room at the White House. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.”

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Vice President Mike Pence stood behind Trump as he spoke, and Pence will travel to the region later in the month.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is provocative because the eastern sector of the city -- home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- is also claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state.

While Congress passed a law in 1995 recognizing a Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and requiring the president to move the U.S. embassy now in Tel Aviv to the city, previous presidents avoided taking steps that could be seen as prejudging the city’s final status. Presidents have consistently exercised a waiver allowing them to delay moving the embassy for national security reasons.

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Trump said that in taking the step the U.S. “is not taking a position on any final status issues including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

He said the U.S. would continue to support “a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”

“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,” Trump said. “We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.”

Trump’s declaration risks alienating Muslim allies assisting in U.S. military operations in the region and sacrificing U.S. credibility as an arbiter in the decades-long effort to broker peace in the region.

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U.S. facilities in the Middle East are bracing for possibly violent protests in the aftermath of the decision. The State Department has sent alerts to embassies and consulates in Muslim-majority countries last week to warn them of unrest, and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has warned employees and their families to limit personal travel.

Relocating the embassy will take years, senior administration officials said as they briefed reporters about the decision on the condition of anonymity Tuesday night. They said there was no specific timetable for the move, but that new embassy construction typically takes 3-4 years.

World leaders in both Europe and the Middle East have denounced the plan. At his weekly audience, Pope Francis called on Trump to respect the status quo in Jerusalem, while French President Emmanuel Macron warned Trump against the move in a call earlier this week, according to a statement from the French government.

Leaders across the Middle East, including from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have also spoken out against the plan, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Trump’s plan a sign of U.S. “failure and impotence.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet commented publicly about the decision.

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