Trump Says U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital
President Donald Trump granted U.S. recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, veering from decades of U.S. policy and launching an uncertain chapter in Washington’s decadeslong quest for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Trump also ordered the State Department to begin moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, criticizing predecessors from both parties for not taking that step before now.
His decision delivered a decisive U.S. affirmation of Israel’s view of its place in a tumultuous region and also allowed him to begin to fulfill a campaign promise to core supporters at home.
“This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” Mr. Trump said in a short address at the White House. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”
Mr. Trump also addressed concerns that his announcement risked prejudging the outcome of negotiations, saying that many details must be worked out between Israelis and Palestinians, including boundaries in Jerusalem. He also said the U.S. would support a two-state solution—including a separate state for Palestinians—that he had previously declined to endorse.
Many aspects of Mr. Trump’s embassy move, a process that will take several years, were known in advance of his address. But his argument that the decision would actually advance peace prospects drew scrutiny and skepticism.
Israeli leaders were nearly alone among foreign officials in applauding Mr. Trump’s decision. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem “is an important step toward peace.”
Others predicted it would make the peace process more difficult.
“This step is prejudging, dictating, closing doors for negotiation, and I think President Trump disqualified America from playing any role in the peace process,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, said in a video statement issued by his office.
A number of nations rejected Mr. Trump’s move and said they wouldn’t follow suit.
“We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May. “The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.”
She urged the Trump administration to swiftly present detailed proposals for a peace agreement, which White House officials on Wednesday said are months away.
French President Emmanuel Macron called it “a regrettable decision,” adding: “France does not approve, it contradicts international law and it ignores U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The Security Council planned to hold an emergency meeting on Friday on the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The request for the meeting was made by eight countries, including the U.K., France and Italy.
A senior White House official said after Mr. Trump’s speech that the president remains an important broker for peace.
“Anybody who says otherwise is doing nothing more than stirring up trouble, stirring up the street and ignoring the reality of what the speech conveyed,” the official said.
Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem and plans to move the U.S. Embassy could advance the peace process by boosting Mr. Trump’s credibility among the parties in future negotiations, showing he sticks to his promises, White House officials said.
For Israel, former U.S. officials and analysts said it could be a sweetener that would provide Mr. Netanyahu the political cover to agree to further concessions on other issues at the negotiating table. The former officials were less certain on how the move would make Palestinians more amenable in talks.
A second White House official said the administration is working hard on its peace plan, which it intends to present in 2018.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s chief negotiator, have spent months shuttling in and out of the region and meeting with the Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arab officials to get input for their plan, which they are in the process of crafting and aim to present when it is ready, officials said.
But many were skeptical about Mr. Trump’s claim that favoring Israel would advance peace prospects.
“This action is a setback—they can’t diminish that,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.), who has met with Mr. Greenblatt and others about the effort. “Why would they do something that makes it more difficult to work with the Palestinians and Israelis?”
The fallout from Mr. Trump’s announcement indicates the extent to which the dynamics in the region have changed and how the administration’s ultimate peace push, should it present one, could fare.
The State Department on Wednesday warned American citizens of possible upcoming protests that could turn violent in at least a dozen cities, including Madrid, Lisbon, Berlin, London, Rabat, Morocco, Amman, Cairo and Caracas.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had requested extra time before Mr. Trump’s announcement so that he could consult with overseas posts and make sure they had adequate security resources should protests erupt, his spokesman R.C. Hammond said.
“We’re going to see whether the political laws of gravity on the Jerusalem issue still apply,” said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. “If Jerusalem is burning by Saturday, we’ll know the region hasn’t changed that much.”
If not, he said, that could suggest a degree of exhaustion and fatigue among Palestinians and about the issue in the region.
The Trump administration believes that Arab countries have begun to see Israel as a fact they must accept, as well as a helpful neighbor in the effort to confront radical extremism. Mr. Trump personally briefed Arab officials in advance of his speech.
Mr. Trump faced a semi-annual deadline this week under a 1995 U.S. law that requires the president to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or sign a waiver to avoid doing so. Mr. Trump signed the waiver on Wednesday, but directed the start of the yearslong process of moving the embassy, including by identifying, designing and constructing a new complex.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed the city soon after. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The international community doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, conducting diplomacy from nearly 90 embassies in Tel Aviv. Many Israeli government buildings are based in Jerusalem.