Uncertainty, anger as Trump keeps alive dispute over moving US embassy to Jerusalem
Muslim tourists from India view the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's holiest sites, in the distance on Dec. 5, 2017. (Holland/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock/Holland/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock) December 5 at 8:09 AM
JERUSALEM â" Muslim world pressure on the Trump administration intensified Tuesday after the White House left open the possibility of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem despite warnings it could imperil Middle East peace efforts and touch off violence.
The Trump administration allowed a deadline to pass Monday for signing a waiver that keeps the embassy in Tel Aviv. The waiver allows the State Department to avoid fines for n ot moving the embassy to Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its undivided capital. But Palestinians also hope that mostly Arab East Jerusalem would be the seat of a possible future state.
The White House said Monday that Trump was still deciding on the next U.S. move, which could include formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israelâs capital but holding back on Trumpâs campaign promise to move the embassy.
The backlash in the Muslim world has grown steadily.
Speaking to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that American recognition of Jerusalem would be a âred lineâ for Muslims, possibly forcing Turkey to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, renewed recently after a six-year split.White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Dec. 3 that President Trump has not yet made a decision on whether to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Reuters)
In Cairo, the chief of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul G heit, warned that any change in Jerusalemâs political status by the United States would be a âdangerous measure that would have repercussionsâ across the Mideast.
Trump reluctantly signed the waiver six months ago as his administration attempts to broker a peace process. White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said a decision regarding the waiver would come in the next few days.
âThe president has been clear on this issue from the get-go; that it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when,â he said.
âJerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and Israelâs capital for the last 70 years, regardless of whether it is recognized by Erdogan or not,â said Israelâs Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement following the Turkish presidentâs speech.
On the Palestinian side, officials have warned that recognizing the city as Israelâs capital will mean an end to U.S.-brokered peace efforts, which they have already comp lained appear biased toward Israel. Calling it Israelâs âundividedâ capital would mark an even more dramatic step, effectively recognizing Israelâs annexation of East Jerusalem.
[Kushner says Mideast peace is essential to thwarting Iran and Islamist extremism]
Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the embassy move was symbolic but the âreal questionâ was whether the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
âThe consensus is not to talk about the status of Jerusalem until a final agreement is reached,â he said. Recognizing Jerusalem would be âvery destructive,â he said.
âThe mother of all deals seems to die on the rocks of Jerusalem,â said Shaath. âThere is no deal of the century that starts with destroying the essence of a two-state solution.â
The Palestinians have been reassured in recent days by regional statements of support, he said, adding that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assured President Abbas during his recent visit to Riyadh that there would be no normalization of ties between the Gulf and Israel without a resolution to the Palestinian issue.
In addition, both Egyptâs Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi spoke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the decision. In a tweet Monday night, Safadi said heâd warned that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel âwould trigger anger across the Arab, Muslim worlds, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts.â
However, Shaath said there remain concerns among Palestinian officials about shifting priorities of Gulf countries, whose interests are aligned with Israel in countering their shared enemy, Iran.
âI hope Iran wonât be a pretext for abandoning Palestine,â he said.
European leaders also have urged Trump not to make any radical changes regarding the status of Jerusalem. French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump in a telephone call that the status of Jerusalem needed to be decided in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an address at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum that such a decision would have âfar-reaching consequencesâ could end up being âcounterproductive.â
Trumpâs failure to sign a waiver Monday was seen by some Israelis as a positive sign.
âMidnight passed and no Jerusalem embassy waiver was signed, which means the law will take full effect,â said Eugene Kontorovich, head of International Law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing think tank in Jerusalem. âThe president has begun the process of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.â
Anne Gearan and Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.
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