Nations across the globe have denounced President Donald Trump’s planned decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the U.S. embassy there, calling it a “grave mistake” that will erode if not outright collapse any broader peace plan in the Middle East.
Arab and majority-Muslim nations warned that the move would be detrimental to any peace effort while China and Russia both publicly expressed concern over the move. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, through a spokesman, said he opposes any action that would hurt a two-state solution. Hamas, meanwhile, declared a day of rage on Friday to protest the move.
According to an Associated Press report, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the embassy move “breaks red lines” for his group, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. He said Trump’s expected announcement on Wednesday would ignite “the spark of rage against the occupation.”
Trump’s decision to relocate the embassy raises the potential for violence in the region, with the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem on Tuesday issuing a security warning barring government employees and their families from personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho.
Trump is expected to announce Wednesday that the U.S. will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv. The announcement, which is not yet official but has been widely reported, will make good on a campaign promise Trump made during last year’s campaign.
The announcement also puts U.S. foreign policy in line with a law passed by Congress in 1995 mandating the embassy move and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Past presidents, including some who have made campaign promises similar to Trump’s, have repeatedly signed six-month waivers to avoid moving the embassy.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding Trump’s decision is Jerusalem’s contested status between Israel and Palestinians. Both lay claim to the ancient city as their capital. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip .Past U.S. administrations have resisted taking a side on the status of Jerusalem, interested instead in keeping avenues for peace dialogue open. Palestinians would almost certainly seek recognition of East Jerusalem as its capital in any two-state solution, potentially putting the U.S. embassy move at odds with any peace deal.
Senior Trump administration officials told reporters Tuesday that the president will not declare that Jerusalem must remain “undivided” in any peace deal, leaving open the possibility of a Palestinian capital in the eastern part of the city. The officials characterized the embassy move as little more than an acknowledgment of reality.
“While President Trump recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, he does not think it will be resolved by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, its supreme court and the prime minister, and as such is the capital of Israel,” one official said. “Delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has done nothing to achieve peace for more than two decades.”
Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway echoed the administration officials who had briefed reporters a day earlier, calling it a “geopolitical reality” that Israel’s true capital is Jerusalem. She noted that former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had both promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel and that the 1995 law mandating the move had passed the Senate by a wide margin.
“The difference between president Trump and past presidents, because they’ve all promised the same thing with respect to moving the embassy to Jerusalem, is that this president will actually do it,” she said.
Reports of the president’s forthcoming announcement have received an almost unanimously negative response internationally, with world leaders warning Trump that the embassy move could spark violence and would create a major impediment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinian envoy to the United Kingdom Manuel Hassassian denounced the expected step as well, telling BBC radio on Wednesday that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be “a 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,” Hassassian said in his interview, which was reported by Reuters.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi on Tuesday pushed the U.S. not to relocate the embassy and said in a statement he spoke with Trump by phone about the issue. The Saudi foreign ministry also issued a statement saying the move would “provoke sentiments of Muslims throughout world.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be a “red line” for Muslims, the Associated Press reports.
Pope Francis, who met earlier Wednesday at the Vatican with a Palestinian delegation, voiced his own opposition to the U.S. shift in Israel, urging a continuation of “everyone’s commitment to respect the city’s status quo, in conformity with the pertinent United Nations Resolutions.”
“My thoughts go to Jerusalem and I cannot keep silent my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the past days,” the pope said. “I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts.”
Nahal Toosi contributed to this story.