Warnings as Trump delays decision on Jerusalem

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Israeli borderguards walk past a T-shirt with an image of US President Donald Trump dressed as a Hasidic Jew, in Jerusalem’s Old City. AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – International leaders warned US President Donald Trump yesterday that he risked outraging Muslims and jeopardising Middle East peace efforts if he recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moved the US embassy there.

Mr Trump delayed a controversial decision on the ancient holy city on Monday, following frantic public warnings from allies and private phone calls between world leaders.

Jerusalem’s status is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming the city as their capital.

Warnings multiplied yesterday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning Mr Trump in a speech that the status of Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims and could even prompt Turkey to cut ties with Israel.

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said member states had decided to meet in Cairo “given the danger of this matter, if it were to happen, and the possible negative consequences not only for the situation in Palestine but also for the Arab and Islamic region”.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved “through negotiations”.

“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled,” Ms Mogherini said after talks in Brussels with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The EU, which supports a two-state solution to the conflict, has warned against doing anything that would jeopardise peace prospects.

“The European Union supports the resumption of a meaningful peace process towards a two-state solution,” Ms Mogherini said. “We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided.”

US officials said Mr Trump was expected to stop short of moving the embassy to Jerusalem outright – a central campaign pledge which his administration has postponed once already. But domestic politics may still push him to break with decades of US policy recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital instead in a gesture towards conservative voters and donors.

“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go: It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. He said a declaration on the move would be made “in the coming days”.

Mr Trump has said he wants to relaunch frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in search of the “ultimate deal” – but recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would destroy that effort, a senior Palestinian official warned.

“That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, told reporters yesterday.

Saeb Erakat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, earlier warned that a change in the US stance on Jerusalem would spell disaster.

Palestinian leaders have been lobbying regional leaders to oppose any shift in US policy, and the armed Islamist movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new “intifada” uprising.

Mr Gheit called on Washington to reconsider.

And US ally Saudi Arabia voiced “grave and deep concern” over the possible move.

“This step will have serious implications and will further complicate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a foreign ministry source.

“It will also obstruct the ongoing efforts to revive the peace process.”

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier warned Mr Trump that Jerusalem’s status must be decided “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.

Amid internal White House disagreements, several US administration officials were unable or unwilling to say with certainty what Mr Trump would decide.

Israeli’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman however urged Mr Trump to grasp a “historic opportunity”.

All foreign embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv, with consular representation in Jerusalem.

Mr Trump was supposed to decide Monday whether to sign a legal waiver delaying by six months plans to move the US embassy from the Holy City.

Mr Trump is now expected to sign the waiver this week, but diplomats and observers said he may also make a speech on Wednesday announcing his support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital.

In a phone conversation with Mr Tillerson on Sunday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned that any change to the
status of Jerusalem would have “grave consequences”.

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