WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, defying warnings from other Middle East countries and some U.S. allies in a politically risky move that he insisted would not derail efforts to broker a peace deal.
But in a sign that the move could backfire, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas slammed Trump’s announcement as a “declaration of withdraw” by the United States from the peace process, according to the Associated Press.
In a midday speech at the White House, Trump defended his decision as “long overdue” recognition of reality given that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s parliament, supreme court and prime minister’s office. He argued that an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians has remained elusive for more than two decades even as his predecessors declined to recognize the contested Holy City as Israel’s capital.
“Some say they lacked courage, but they made the best judgment based on the facts as they understood them,” Trump said, speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room. “Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades, we’re no closer to a lasting peace agreement.”
Trump added that “it’s folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula will produce a different or better result.”
The announcement came a day after senior White House aides previewed Trump’s decision, and the president also ordered the State Department to begin planning to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that administration officials said would take several years. After his remarks, Trump signed another six-month waiver to maintain the embassy compound in Tel Aviv, which senior aides said was meant to ensure funding was not eliminated under a 1995 law even as planning for a new embassy would commence.
Trump emphasized that despite his decision he remained committed to helping broker a peace agreement. The White House is working on a peace plan to be unveiled sometime next year.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides,” Trump said. “I intend to do everything in my power to forge such an agreement.”
The announcement set off a flurry of reactions in Washington, Europe and the Middle East. Trump spoke with Abbas on Tuesday to inform him of the decision and Abbas told him his government would not accept the move.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the president’s announcement, calling it “a historic day” and stating that his nation is “profoundly grateful for the president for his courageous and just decision.”
Other Middle East nations and some U.S. allies condemned the decision ahead of Trump’s speech, suggesting the shift in policy would inflame regional tensions and make the process of brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians more difficult. “We think it’s an unwise step and a counterproductive step. If we want to solve at some moment the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we need a two-state solution, and a one-sided step is not going to help,” Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra said Wednesday.
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