Mideast uneasy as Trump reportedly decides to move US Embassy to Jerusalem
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Palestinian officials said Tuesday that President Donald Trump told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call that he planned to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, raising regional tensions over the timing and extent of U.S. moves regarding the fiercely contested city.
Trump has repeatedly pledged to take the highly symbolic step of relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv, which would be seen as de facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The White House has not said whether Trump signed a waiver this week putting off any decision on an embassy move for at least six months, as past presidents have done, and the Palestinian statement did not say whether the president disclosed a timetable.
The guessing game over Trump’s intentions brought new warnings Tuesday from Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and a potential U.S. partner in any overarching Mideast peace accord. The Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed “grave and deep concern” over reports that Trump intends to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy.
Opposition has been building in the Arab world and beyond to any move by Trump to either move the embassy or formally recognize the contested city as Israel’s capital.
A spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency as saying Abbas told Trump during their phone call that moving the embassy would have highly negative repercussions.
Abbas, the spokesman said in a statement, “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.”
The status of Jerusalem has long been a flashpoint. Israel claims the entire city as its capital; the Palestinians want the city’s eastern sector as the capital of any future Palestinian state.
Congress passed a law in 1995 calling for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. To keep it in Tel Aviv, presidents must sign a waiver every six months, as Trump did in June. Even if the president has signed the waiver, or intends to, the question of whether he might declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital has sent ripples of alarm across the Arab world and beyond.
Palestinians have threatened to cut off contacts with Washington if Trump makes unilateral decisions about Jerusalem’s status.
It has long been the consensus of the international community that the city’s future should be determined by negotiations. That is why foreign embassies are mainly located in Tel Aviv.
Sharp warnings against any move to declare Jerusalem the Israeli capital or move the U.S. Embassy have come from Turkey, a NATO ally, and a number of Arab states.
The Saudi opposition is particularly significant, in part because the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has courted the backing of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to try to marshal Arab support for peace moves in the region. But Saudi statements on Trump’s potential moves have been increasingly forceful.
“This step, if taken, will constitute a fundamental change and an unwarranted shift in the United States’ impartial position at a time when the world looks to the United States of America to work on achieving the desired progress in the peace process,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. “This step will also provoke the sentiments of Muslims throughout the world in light of the great importance and the pivotal status of Jerusalem.”
Other Arab countries weighed in as well. Ali Ayed, Jordan’s ambassador to Egypt and representative to the Arab League, said a decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would have disastrous repercussions, not only for the Palestinian territories but for the entire Arab and Islamic worlds.
In a speech at an extraordinary session of the Arab League Council, Ayed said such a decision would touch off despair and frustration among Muslims and adversely affect efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, according to Jordan’s Petra news agency.
European allies including France also have said unilateral American moves on Jerusalem would heighten tensions.
(Special correspondent Zedan reported from Bethlehem, West Bank, and staff writer King from Washington. Times staff writer Alexandra Zavis contributed to this report from Beirut.)
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