Politico

State Department warns of violence ahead of Trump Jerusalem decision

Written by Lisa

The State Department has warned American embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible announcement Wednesday by President Donald Trump that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The warning — delivered in the past week via two classified cables described by State Department officials — reflects concern that such an announcement could provoke fury in the Arab world even as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner works to advance long-stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Some Arab leaders have implored Trump not to change longstanding American policy on Jerusalem, saying it could make any peace agreement impossible and that it would spark mass protests and even terrorism. The militant group Hamas has already called for a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, if Trump declares Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish-majority state.

“The impending Jerusalem announcement has me very worried about the possibility of violent responses that could affect embassies,” one State Department official told POLITICO. “I hope I’m wrong.”

U.S. embassies have been targets of violent demonstrations in the Muslim world before. In September 2012, anger over an inflammatory anti-Muslim video sparked protests outside U.S. embassies in numerous countries, including Yemen, Egypt and Pakistan, and Islamic terrorists exploiting a related action in Benghazi, Libya, killed four Americans there.

Trump is expected to discuss his view on Jerusalem during a speech at the National Defense University on Wednesday.

Jerusalem’s status has been disputed for decades, with both Palestinians and Israelis claiming the holy city as their capital. Most nations, including the U.S., have declined to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying its status must be resolved as part of peace talks between the two sides. Palestinians insist the city’s fate cannot be determined without their involvement.

It remains unclear what Trump will say on Wednesday. Regional experts said the prospects for violence — and potential threats to U.S. embassies in the Arab world and beyond — depend on the specific formulation of his position.

Trump promised as a candidate to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fulfilling a longtime conservative foreign policy goal. But past presidents have made the same promise only to drop the idea once in the White House, citing security concerns and the fate of the peace process.

Under a 1995 law passed by Congress, the U.S. president must recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv — or else issue a declaration every six months that such a move would conflict with America’s national security interests. Trump signed one waiver in June. Another was expected Friday but the White House said Monday that it had no announcement on the subject, leaving observers waiting for Wednesday’s speech to reveal Trump’s decision.

Trump could try to split the difference by saying Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and should remain undivided while also keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for now.

Even that compromise could enrage Palestinians and other Arabs, however.

“The most important thing is the recognition — nobody cares where the embassy is,” said Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia University professor and prominent Palestinian advocate. “The U.S. disqualifies itself as an honest broker by wholeheartedly adopting an Israeli position.”

Trump also could say that West Jerusalem should stay in Israeli hands, implying that East Jerusalem — which Israel claimed in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 — could serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state. But that might anger many in Trump’s base, which includes evangelicals and other right-leaning supporters of Israel who dream of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital.

Asked to comment on the security concerns, a State Department spokesman said: “The president has always said it is a matter of when, not if,” the U.S. would move its embassy to Jerusalem. “The president is still considering options, and we have nothing to announce.”

In the run up to Trump’s planned speech, U.S. allies have warned against the potential consequences of revising U.S. policy towards Jerusalem.

French President Emmanuel Macron shared his concerns with Trump on Monday, according to multiple news reports. And on a trip to Washington last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah — a longtime U.S. ally and interlocutor on Arab-Israeli issues — urged members of Congress to avoid inflaming the Middle East.

“Moving the embassy at this stage, the king warned, would have implications on the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim scene, and would threaten the two-state solution,” the Jordanian government stated in a readout of Abdullah’s meetings. “It could be potentially exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration, and desperation in order to spread their ideologies.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an umbrella group of Muslim-majority countries, issued a statement Monday that warned that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or transferring a diplomatic mission to the city would be “a naked aggression” on “the Palestinian people’s national rights” and a violation of international law.

Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to Trump, appeared this weekend at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington, where he touted the administration’s diplomacy in pursuit of a Middle East peace agreement that has eluded several American presidents.

Kushner was coy when pressed on details of a draft peace plan he and a handful of Trump aides have been working on for months. He also gave no hint of what Trump plans to say about the future of Jerusalem.

But Kushner did say that changes in the Middle East, especially growing Arab concerns about the rise of Iran, make now an opportune moment to solve the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“If we’re going to try and create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue,” he said.

Continue

About the author

Lisa

Leave a Comment