Trump's evangelical supporters delighted with announcement on Jerusalem

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the White House on Dec 6, 2017.
US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the White House on Dec 6, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

President Donald Trump's formal, public recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has by and large been universally condemned but his announcement went well with his core supporters.

The President's white evangelical fan base was delighted.

"Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends," Paula White, a Florida mega church pastor close to Mr Trump, was quoted as saying on CNN.

"President Trump has - yet again - demonstrated to his evangelical supporters that he will do what he says he will do," said Johnnie Moore, a member of group of evangelical advisers to Mr Trump, who had been urging him to take the decision.

Evangelicals number roughly 94 million in the US and are mostly wooed as a solid vote bloc. Eighty one per cent of white evangelicals who voted in November 2016, cast their ballots for Mr Trump. A clincher for the decision for many was his campaign promise to shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At Mr Trump's 100-day mark in office in April, a Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of white evangelicals approved of his performance as president. That rating may well rise, analysts say, on the back of the Jerusalem decision.

Dr Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego, in a statement said: "It is quite possible that… today is the single most important announcement regarding Israel by a US president since President Harry Truman recognised Israel as a state 70 years ago on May 14, 1948."

Another of the President's evangelical advisors, Robert Jeffress, pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, told Reuters: "The faith community has talked to the administration for months and months about the need to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

"But the fact is… this was a campaign promise that President Trump was happy to keep because he feels that way."

Former Arkansas governor - and former Baptist minister - Mike Huckabee, whose daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders is White House Press Secretary, tweeted "Proud of @realDonaldTrump for embassy move to Jerusalem Capitol (sic) of Jewish people since time of King David and never Capitol (sic) for any other nation. EVER. @POTUS shows courage and clarity."

Jewish groups, already wary that Mr Trump's rise has emboldened white supremacists, were more cautious in their response.

In a joint statement, the Anti-Defamation League's national chair, Mr Marvin Nathan, and CEO, Mr Jonathan Greenblatt, said "This is a significant step that acknowledges reality: Jerusalem is the political capital of the country and has been the spiritual heart of the Jewish people for millennia."

"And yet this important and long overdue step should not preclude the imperative of peace negotiations - including discussions over the final status of Jerusalem," they said.

"We recognise that this is an enormously sensitive and volatile issue," they added. "We also hope that all parties emphasise the fact that this announcement does not diminish the recognition of, and respect for, the Muslim and Christian connection to the holy city."

The President also got support on Capitol Hill from Republicans and some Democrats.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, called the announcement "an important step in the right direction" while New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it "helps correct a decades-long indignity".

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, cautioned that Mr Trump's move was premature and warned of mass protests.

Many foreign policy pundits were also deeply worried by the announcement, fearing it will inflame the Middle East.

"This announcement will inflame Muslims all over the world and historians will point to it as the catalyst for another deadly wave of religious violence in the Middle East," Uzair Younus, an analyst at the consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group told The Straits Times.

A Washington based analyst and former lecturer at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, asking not to be named citing the sensitivity of the subject, told The Straits Times: "Anyone, anywhere who bases policy on reality should be commended. So in that regard, the move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a good one."

But achieving peace in the current political environment was impossible, and if that was the goal it was doomed to fail, he said.

"Second, the administration continues to sit idly by while Israel makes moves on the ground in the West Bank that undermine the viability of a two state solution at some point in the future," he added. "As long as that continues, the future will continue to be grim."