Arab League calls urgent meet over Trump move

The Arab League meeting scheduled for Dec 9 was called in response to Palestine's request that has been supported by Jordan.
The Arab League meeting scheduled for Dec 9 was called in response to Palestine's request that has been supported by Jordan. PHOTOS: REUTERS

Plan to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital will upend US policy and likely spark violence

CAIRO • The Arab League will hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers on Saturday to discuss Arab action on United States President Donald Trump's move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The endorsement by Mr Trump, to come in a speech set to be made at 2am Singapore time today, would upend decades of careful US policy and ignore dire warnings of a historic misstep that could trigger a surge of violence in the Middle East.

"He will say that the United States government recognises that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," said a senior administration official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

"He views this as a recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality."

Plunging further into a decades-long dispute over a city considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians, Mr Trump will also order plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"It will take some time to find a site, to address security concerns, design a new facility, fund a new facility and build it," the official said. "It will be a matter of some years - it won't be months. It is going to take time."

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.

The status of Jerusalem is a critical issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital.

Previous peace plans have stumbled over debates on whether and how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites.

The Arab League meeting scheduled for Saturday was called in response to Palestine's request that has been supported by Jordan, according to the official Mena news agency yesterday.

In a frantic series of calls, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, France, Germany and Turkey all warned Mr Trump against his decision.

In anticipation of protests, American government officials and their families have been ordered to avoid Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, which opposes Israel and supports the Palestinian cause, yesterday blasted Mr Trump's plan to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, saying the move would not be tolerated.

He also agreed to attend a special summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation - the main pan-Islamic body - next Wednesday. The summit was called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the issue.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to quell fears yesterday that the US move could sink any hope of new peace talks.

"The President is very committed to the Middle East peace process," Mr Tillerson told reporters at a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels.

A small team led by Mr Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been "engaged in a quiet way" in the region to try to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, he noted.

"We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved, and the President has a team that is devoted to that entirely," Mr Tillerson said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented.

Pope Francis yesterday called for Jerusalem's "status quo" to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts.

Palestinians have expressed anger and a sense of betrayal.

Many heard the death knell for the long-moribund US-sponsored talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They also said that more violence could erupt.

"Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem," said Mr Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City. "This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions."

XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'Arab League calls urgent meet over Trump move'. Print Edition | Subscribe