President Donald Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there, upending nearly seven decades of U.S. foreign policy and potentially destroying his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump’s decision was driven by a campaign promise: He appealed to evangelicals and ardently pro-Israel American Jews in 2016 by vowing to move the embassy, and advisers said Tuesday he was determined to make good on his word.
But the president, faced with a deadline of this past Monday to make that decision, still plans to sign a national security waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for an additional six months, even as he set in motion a plan to move it to Jerusalem. Officials said the process would take several years.
More significantly, Trump is to announce his formal recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in a speech at the White House on Wednesday, when he will become the first U.S. president to take that step since the founding of Israel in 1948.
Trump spent Tuesday morning explaining the policy change in telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president; and Arab leaders who warned him that it would disrupt the peace process, perhaps fatally, and could unleash a new wave of violence across the region.
“Moving the U.S. embassy is a dangerous step that provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world,” King Salman of Saudi Arabia told Trump in their call, according to Saudi state television.
Late Tuesday, Palestinian national and Islamic groups issued a joint statement calling for three days of “popular anger” to protest Trump’s move, beginning Wednesday throughout the Palestinian territories and in demonstrations at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.
White House officials said Trump remained committed to what he has called the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. The decision, they said, was “recognition of current and historic reality.” They said it could hasten rather than impede peace negotiations by removing a source of ambiguity from the U.S. position.