Palestinians protest, burn American, Israeli flags
WASHINGTON: Defying dire, worldwide warnings, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke with decades of US and international policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Despite urgent appeals from Arab and European leaders and the risk of anti-American protests and violence, Trump declared that he was ending an approach that for decades has failed to advance the prospects for peace. He also for the first time personally endorsed the concept of a ‘two-state solution’ for Israel and the Palestinians, provided both sides agree to it.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said in a White House address, calling it ‘overdue’ and in the best interests of the United States. He said recognition acknowledged the ‘obvious’ that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government despite the disputed status that is one of the key elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is nothing more or less than the recognition of reality,” he said.
Trump also directed that the State Department begin the process of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as required by US law. Officials said, however, that the move will take years to complete.
Trump maintained that his decision would not compromise the city’s geographic and political borders, which will still be determined by Israel and the Palestinians.
Ahead of Trump’s speech, Arab and Muslim leaders spoke about the potential for violence. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their ‘eternal capital,’ language that Israelis similarly use for their nation.
Even America’s closest allies in Europe questioned the wisdom of Trump’s radical departure from the past US position, which was studiously neutral over the sovereignty of the city.
Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It’s also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered protests in the past, in the Holy Land and beyond.
America’s consulate in Jerusalem has 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.
In a speech in Gaza City, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new intifada, or uprising.
Protests were held in West Bank cities including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, as well as in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces dispersed several hundred protesters with tear gas at a checkpoint at the entrance to Ramallah, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported dozens wounded from tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire in the West Bank.
Three Palestinians were wounded east of the city of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, medical sources and witnesses said.
Trump’s defiant move — making good on a pledge made during his 2016 presidential campaign — ends seven decades of US ambiguity on the status of the Holy City, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian shops in east Jerusalem, including the Old City, as well as in the West Bank were largely shuttered and schools closed on Thursday after a general strike was called.
“By this decision, America became a very small country, like any small country in the world, like Micronesia,” Salah Zuhikeh, 55, told AFP in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“America was a great country for us and everyone.”