President Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, announcing the plans to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, a campaign promised that he made during the campaign trail.
“My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said in a speech in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”
Defying decades of U.S. and international policy, with different world leaders warning that declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would severely damage any peace between Israel and Palestine causing further violence between the two countries, Trump framed this decision as a delivery of his campaign promise.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering,”
Since 1995, President Bill Clinton signed into a law, the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, considers Jerusalem the capital, mandating the U.S. to move its embassy. However, the law had a waiver option to delay the move every six months. In announcing the move, President Trump continued to take advantage of the waiver option to prevent jeopardizing the State Department funding.
“For over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city,” Trump said. “Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
Trump said he has directed the State Department to begin the process to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, it might take three to four years as the Trump Administration refused to convert the existing U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to an embassy and decided to construct a brand new facility.
“I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Trump said. “This will immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers, and planners, so that a new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace.”
One official said that it “will take some time” in terms of finding a site due to security concerns, as well as working with congress to “design a new facility, fund a new facility and build it.”
The U.S. would be the first country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Other countries who have diplomatic relations with Israel keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Trump speech that Israel is “profoundly grateful” and an “important step toward peace.”
“We are profoundly grateful for the president, for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This decision reflects the president’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth. The President’s decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised address that the U.S. shift “is a declaration of withdrawal from the role it has played in the peace process.”
“These condemned and unacceptable measures are a deliberate undermining of all efforts exerted to achieve peace and represent a declaration of the United States’ withdrawal from undertaking the role it has played over the past decades in sponsoring the peace process,” Abbas said in a televised speech. “With this announcement, the American administration has chosen to violate all international and bilateral agreements and resolutions and it has chosen to violate international consensus.”
A chief Palestinian adviser for President Abbas, Saeb Erakat said that the move “totally destroys any chance that he can play a role as an honest broker” in Middle East peace negotiations.
“President Trump just destroyed any policy of a two-state solution,” Erakat said in a statement. “He has taken an action to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is in total contradiction of agreements signed between Palestinians and Israelis.”
Despite concerns from regional Arab leaders that such move would hinder the peace process, Trump emphasized his commitment of a “two-state solution” between Palestine and Israel.
“The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides,” Trump stated. “I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”
Trump added that such move from the U.S. is “not taking a position” on any future boundaries of Israeli and Palestinian states.
“In making these announcements, I also want to make one point very clear — This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,” Trump said. “We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”
To reaffirm its commitment of “peace and security” and work with its Middle East partners, Trump said Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Middle East region in the coming days. According to Pence’s office, the Vice President will meet with Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President during the week of December 17. Pence will also meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, before returning to the U.S. on December 22.