Foreign leaders warned Donald Trump that his plans to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday and relocate the US embassy to the holy city threatened to escalate tensions in the region and undermine efforts to broker peace.
“I think it’s long overdue. Many presidents have said they want to do something and they didn’t do it,” Mr Trump told reporters at a cabinet meeting before his planned announcement.
But the president’s move would reverse decades of American policy in the Middle East and upset traditional US allies in the region.
Pope Francis took indirect aim at Mr Trump’s plans on Wednesday, adding his voice to warnings by Arab and Muslim leaders that recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would have dangerous repercussions.
“I cannot hide my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the last few days, and at the same time, I offer a heartfelt appeal for the commitment of all to respect the status quo of the city in conformity with the pertinent UN resolutions,” Pope Francis said. “Jerusalem is a unique city, which is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who venerate the holy sites of their respective religions, and has a special vocation for peace.”
The Pope, who has spoken to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, in recent days, said that he prayed for “wisdom and prudence” to prevail to avoid “new elements of tension in a world already convulsed and marked by many cruel conflicts”.
The status of the divided city is hugely delicate and its fate is one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel regards Jerusalem as its undivided capital and claims sovereignty over the whole city. But the international community views East Jerusalem as occupied land and the Palestinians consider it their future capital.
No nation has an embassy in Jerusalem. The international community’s position has long been that Jerusalem’s status should be determined by peace talks.
Boris Johnson, the UK’s foreign secretary, said Britain viewed “the reports that we have heard with concern because we think that Jerusalem obviously should be part of the final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a negotiated settlement that we want to see”.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to host an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation next week to discuss the issue, his spokesman said. Mr Erdogan on Tuesday said the status of Jerusalem was a “red line” for the Muslim world and warned that Turkey, a NATO member, could “go as far as cutting ties with Israel”.
Senior US administration officials said Mr Trump considered his decision to change the US stance towards Jerusalem as recognition of a reality that the city was the seat of the Israeli government. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv was a project that will take years, the officials added, saying it would be part of the state department’s task to find a site.
“While President Trump recognises the status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, he does not think it will be resolved by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, its Supreme Court, the prime minister, and as such is the capital of Israel,” said one official.
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