Trump forges ahead on Jerusalem-as-capital despite warnings

2017-12-06 06:16
US President Donald Trump. (Andrew Harnik, AP, file)

US President Donald Trump. (Andrew Harnik, AP, file)

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Washington - US President Donald Trump will recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump will instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, US officials said on Tuesday.

It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by US law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.

READ: International warnings as Trump delays Jerusalem decision

The officials said numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, will need to be finalised first.

Because of those issues, the embassy is not likely to move for at least three or four years, presuming there is no future change in US policy.

Waiver

To that end, the officials said Trump will sign a waiver delaying the embassy move, which is required by US law every six months. He will continue to sign the waiver until preparations for the embassy move are complete.

The officials said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be an acknowledgement 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 US and other countries maintain embassies.

The US officials spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because they were not authorised to publicly preview Trump's announcement. Their comments mirrored those of officials who spoke on the issue last week.

The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences.

The US 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 US security warning on Tuesday.

America's consulate in Jerusalem ordered US 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.

Warnings

Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the US embassy.

However, US leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the US 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.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the US to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, warning of "repercussions".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament such recognition was a "red line" and that Turkey could respond by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call on Monday that Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations on setting up an independent Palestine alongside Israel.

Meeting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said actions undermining peace efforts "must be absolutely avoided".

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