NEW YORK: World leaders on Tuesday warned US President Donald Trump he risked inflaming the Muslim world and jeopardising peace efforts if he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there.
“Mr Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a raucous televised speech, echoing alarm expressed by Palestinian, Arab and other Muslim leaders.
Trump had been due to take a decision on the Holy City on Monday but delayed it by several days following a string of public and private warnings from leaders around the globe.
Jerusalem is one of the most thorny issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming it as their capital.
In his address, Erdogan warned that any move to back Israel’s claim to the city would mobilise “the entire Islamic world” and even prompt Ankara to sever its recently-renewed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Most of the international community, including the United States, does not formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in final status negotiations.
And the suggestion that Trump could be poised to reverse years of US policy has prompted a furious bout of Palestinian lobbying, with the Hamas movement threatening to launch a new “intifada” or uprising.
‘A way must be found’
Central to the issue of recognition is the question of the US embassy.
All foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv with consular representation in Jerusalem. Trump had been expected on Monday to decide whether to sign a legal waiver that would delay by six months plans to move the US embassy.
“No action though will be taken on the waiver today and we will declare a decision on the waiver in the coming days,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
But he insisted the move would eventually happen.
“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.”
Following talks in Brussels with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini warned that any move which risked undermining efforts to jumpstart the moribund peace talks “must absolutely be avoided”.
“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,” she said.
Act of ‘aggression’
In Cairo, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit warned it would be viewed as an act of “clear aggression” against the Arab and Muslim world.
And Erdogan said that Turkey, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), would immediately call a summit of the pan-Islamic group if Trump pushed ahead.
Saudi Arabia also expressed “grave and deep concern” about the impact it would have on both the conflict and peace efforts, while the Palestinians said it would shatter any illusion about Trump’s ability to fairly mediate in any talks.
“That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Trump is 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.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act
In Israel, however, hardline Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed the moment as a “historic opportunity” for Trump, expressing hope he would see the US embassy in Jerusalem “next week or next month”.
The US Congress has already made its aim clear in the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was passed in 1995 and which stated that the city “should be recognised as the capital of the State of Israel” and that the US embassy should be moved there.
But an inbuilt waiver, which allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on grounds of “national security,” has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, meaning the law has never taken effect.
Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its “eternal and undivided capital.”
But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.
Several peace plans have unravelled over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee sites in the city that are holy for Christians, Jews and Muslims.