WASHINGTON/GAZA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Palestinian and Jordanian leaders on Tuesday that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, their representatives said, amid a growing outcry across the Middle East against any unilateral U.S. decision on the ancient city.
Senior U.S. officials have said Trump is likely on Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while delaying relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, though he is expected to order his aides to begin planning such a move immediately. The officials said, however, that no final decisions have been made.
U.S. endorsement of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital would break with decades of U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah joined a mounting chorus of voices saying the U.S. move could unleash turmoil.
Trump notified Abbas “of his intention to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
Abbas “warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world,” Abu Rdainah said.
Trump also told the Jordanian monarch of his ”“intention to move forward” with the embassy relocation, and Abdullah responded that such a decision would have “dangerous repercussions” for the region and would obstruct U.S. efforts to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to a palace statement.
Neither of the leaders’ statements said whether Trump, who was also due to talk to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, specified the timing of an embassy move.
Trump, who promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to move the embassy to Jerusalem, appears intent on satisfying the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped him win the presidency.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who met last week with U.S. officials in Washington, told Israel’s Army Radio: ”My impression is that the president will recognize Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, as the capital of the state of Israel.”
Asked if Israel was preparing for a wave of violence if Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, he said: ”We are preparing for every option. Anything like that can always erupt. If Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) will lead it in that direction then he will be making a big mistake.”
Turkey threatened on Tuesday to cut diplomatic ties with Israel if Trump recognizes Jerusalem.
Senior U.S. officials told Reuters some officers in the State Department were also deeply concerned and the European Union, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League all warned that any such declaration would have repercussions across the region.
“Mr. Trump, Jerusalem is the red line of Muslims,” Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling AK Party.
“This can go as far as severing Turkey’s ties with Israel. I am warning the United States not to take such a step, which will deepen the problems in the region.”
FEARS OF BACKLASH
Netanyahu has so far declined to speculate on what Trump might say.
But Katz took to Twitter to reject Turkey’s threat and reiterate Israel’s position on the city, which is one of a long list of stumbling blocks in years of failed peace talks with the Palestinians.
“We don’t take orders or accept threats from the president of Turkey,” he wrote.
Two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity that news of the plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had kicked up resistance from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau, which deals with the region.
“Senior (officials) in NEA and a number of ambassadors from the region expressed their deep concern about doing this,” said one official, saying that the concerns focused on “security.”
The State Department referred questions to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A fourth U.S. official said the consensus U.S. intelligence estimate on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that it would risk triggering a backlash against Israel, and also potentially against U.S. interests in the Middle East.
It could also derail a fledgling Israeli-Palestinian peace effort led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Tuesday that “any action that would undermine” peace efforts to create two separate states for the Israelis and the Palestinians “must absolutely be avoided”.
Speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, she said Jerusalem’s status would have to be agreed through negotiations.
The Arab League and Saudi Arabia repeated past warnings, following statements by France and Jordan in recent days.
Past Israeli-Palestinian rifts have deteriorated into protests, attacks and fighting and further destabilized the region.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.