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Thursday, December 07, 2017, 09:38
Mideast on edge ahead of Trump's move on Jerusalem
By Agencies
Thursday, December 07, 2017, 09:38 By Agencies

A view of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, some of the holiest sites for for Jews and Muslims, is seen in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec 6, 2017. US officials say President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital Wednesday and instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. (ODED BALILTY / AP)

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM/BEIRUT — Arabs and Muslims across a Middle East on edge warned Wednesday that President Donald Trump's anticipated announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would inflame Muslim feelings worldwide and bring further chaos and instability to the region.

Trump's decision, a core promise of his election campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians

Criticism poured in from Tehran to Ankara to war-ravaged Syria, reflecting the anxiety ahead of the announcement.

Jerusalem's status has been a stumbling block in decades of on-off Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state in the east of the city.

READ MORE: US, foreign officials warn Trump against calling Jerusalem Israel's capital

One Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East. Pope Francis called for Jerusalem's "status quo" to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts, while China and Russia expressed concern the plans could aggravate regional hostilities.

Washington's Middle East allies have all warned against the dangerous repercussions of Trump's decision.

Turkey said it could go as far as breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel if the US move goes ahead. A government spokesman said it would plunge the region into "a fire with no end in sight".

Trump will sign a national security waiver delaying a physical move since the US does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.

But Trump's decision, a core promise of his election campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Status of Jerusalem: China urges all parties to exercise caution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Facebook: "Each day there are very significant manifestations of our historic national identity - but today especially so. And I willhave more to add on this later today, on a matter related to Jerusalem."

Palestinian women chant slogans as they hold Palestinian flags during a sit-in in the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp, in Beirut, Lebanon, Dec 6, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (BILAL HUSSEIN / AP)

The Palestinians have said Trump's move would mean the "kiss of death" to the two-state solution.

"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," Manuel Hassassian, the chief Palestinian representative to Britain, told BBC radio.

Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal.

Senior Trump administration officials said Trump's decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel's favor and agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: that Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.

"The president believes this is a recognition of reality," said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. "We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact."

"NEW ADVENTURISM"

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

The political benefits for Trump of the move are unclear.

The decision will thrill Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who make up a large share of his political base. But it will complicate Trump's desire for a more stable Middle East and Israel-Palestinian peace. Past presidents have put off such a move.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the plans were a sign of US "incompetence and failure", while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was "no place for new adventurism by global oppressors".

Pope Francis meets with a delegation of Palestinian religious and intellectual representatives, at the Vatican, Dec 6, 2017. Pope called Wednesday for the status quo of Jerusalem to be respected and for "wisdom and prudence" to prevail to avoid further conflict, hours before the expected announcement that the US is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO/POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Iran has long supported a number of Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have in the past tried to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem to stoke anti-Israel and anti-US sentiment.

"Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places," said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she intended to speak to Trump about the status of Jerusalem which should be determined as part of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

Germany and France warned its citizens in Israel and the Palestinian Territories of the risk of unrest.

'SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS'

The decision comes as Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a relatively quiet effort to restart long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.

"The president will reiterate how committed he is to peace.

While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time," one senior official said.

This July 7, 2017 file photo provided by United Nations shows Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressing a press conference closing peace talks in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. (STR / UNITED NATIONS / AFP)

As well as Netanyahu, Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman to inform them of his decision.

The Jordanian king "affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike," said a statement from his office.

Abbas warned Trump of the “dangerous consequences” that moving the embassy would have for peace efforts and regional stability, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

But Trump assured Abbas that he remained committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, one US official said.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters it regarded Jerusalem as a "final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions."

Trump has weighted US policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world.

But deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense.

Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.

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