Arab Warnings Mount as U.S. Suggests Move to Declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel
BY: LOVEDAY MORRIS
JERUSALEM — Arab nations and Palestinian officials have warned of dire consequences if the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including potential unrest and an end to the peace process, amid last-minute lobbying to prevent President Trump from making the move.
In a late-night call Sunday, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that such a decision could “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,” according to Jordan’s state news agency.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, also discussed with Tillerson the “possible negative impacts” on peace, according to a ministry spokesman. He asked that Tillerson avoid taking decisions that could “stir tensions in the region.”
Turkey said a change in policy would be a “major catastrophe.” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, meanwhile, called for an emergency meeting of the 22 members of the Arab League, which is expected to take place Tuesday.
For more than two decades, successive U.S. presidents have signed a waiver every six months that allows them to delay a move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on national security grounds. During his campaign, Trump vowed to relocate the U.S. Embassy but reluctantly signed the waiver six months ago as his administration attempts to broker a peace process.
The White House was expected to let Monday’s deadline for the next signing pass unmentioned, a signal that a shift is likely to be in the works. Trump is likely to outline a new policy on Jerusalem and the embassy in a speech Wednesday, an administration official said.
Israel claims Jerusalem in its entirety as its eternal and undivided capital, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Despite the critical statements by Jordan and Egypt, Palestinians may find it hard to coordinate genuinely robust opposition at a time when Arab states increasingly see their security interests aligned with Israel’s against their shared enemy, Iran.
In the Knesset on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed an “unprecedented” shift in the Arab states’ attitude to Israel.
The regional power broker, Saudi Arabia, has yet to publicly condemn possible U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, reportedly held late-night discussions on Middle East strategy in October.
“I don’t see how this advances our interests,” said Aaron Miller, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and former Middle East negotiator under both Democrat and Republican administrations. “Whether this is going to be the end of the world is another matter. The Saudis have been quiet on this.”
Kushner said Sunday that Trump is “close” to making a decision on Jerusalem but is “still looking at a lot of facts.” Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan in 1967 in the Six-Day War, later annexing it in a move considered illegal by the United Nations.
Palestinian officials have warned that recognition of the city as Israel’s capital will end U.S.-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 recognizing Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month expressed surprise after the United States threatened to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington office unless the Palestinians engaged in meaningful peace talks.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “is offensive and contrary to the role of the U.S. administration as a mediator and sponsor of the peace process,” the Palestinian deputy premier, Ziad Abu Amr, told the U.S. consul general for Jerusalem, Donald Blome, in a meeting in Ramallah on Monday, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. It “closes every door to the continuation of a serious peace process, and pushes the entire region into more tension and instability.”
“The status of Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been determined by international agreements,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said after a cabinet meeting on Monday, according to Reuters. “It is important to preserve Jerusalem’s status for the sake of protecting peace in the region.”
“These are attempts to manipulate the American administration,” he said on a conference call organized by the Israel Project, a pro-Israel media advocacy organization. “They are actually counterproductive. I don’t think this administration responds very well to crude threats.”
The State Department has warned embassies of potential unrest and anti-American protests this week related to an announcement, according to U.S. officials.
Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.