JERUSALEM (WASHINGTON POST) – Muslim world pressure on the Trump administration intensified on Tuesday (Dec 5) after the White House left open the possibility of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, despite warnings it could imperil Middle East peace efforts and touch off violence.
The Trump administration allowed a deadline to pass on Monday for signing a waiver that keeps the embassy in Tel Aviv. The waiver allows the State Department to avoid fines for not 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 on Monday that Trump was still deciding on the next US move, which could include formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but holding back on Trump’s 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 “red line” for Muslims, possibly forcing Turkey to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, renewed recently after a six-year split.
In Cairo, the chief of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, warned that any change in Jerusalem’s political status by the United States would be a “dangerous measure that would have repercussions” 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. “The President has been clear on this issue from the get-go; that it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” he said.
“Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and Israel’s capital for the last 70 years, regardless of whether it is recognised by Erdogan or not,” said Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement following the Turkish President’s speech.
On the Palestinian side, officials have warned that recognising the city as Israel’s capital will mean an end to US-brokered peace efforts, which they have already complained appear biased toward Israel. Calling it Israel’s “undivided” capital would mark an even more dramatic step, effectively recognising Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.
Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the embassy move was symbolic, but the “real question” was whether the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“The consensus is not to talk about the status of Jerusalem until a final agreement is reached,” he said.
Recognising Jerusalem would be “very destructive”, he said. “The mother of all deals seems to die on the rocks of Jerusalem,” said Shaath. “There is no deal of the century that starts with destroying the essence of a two-state solution.”
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 normalisation of ties between the Gulf and Israel without a resolution to the Palestinian issue.
In addition, both Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the decision. In a tweet on Monday night, Safadi said he had warned that recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “would trigger anger across the Arab, Muslim worlds, fuel tension and jeopardise peace efforts”.
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.
“I hope Iran won’t be a pretext for abandoning Palestine,” 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 “far-reaching consequences” and could end up being “counterproductive”.
Trump’s failure to sign a waiver on Monday was seen by some Israelis as a positive sign.
“Midnight passed and no Jerusalem embassy waiver was signed, which means the law will take full effect,” said Eugene Kontorovich, head of International Law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing think tank in Jerusalem. “The president has begun the process of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”