WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Speaking from the White House, the president said he was delivering on a campaign promise, adding that the decision “marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious — that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” he said.
The president also said he has also instructed the State Department to begin the long process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said.
Trump called Israel “a sovereign nation with a right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital.”
“Acknowledging this is a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace,” he said.
The holy city plays a major role in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
As part of his announcement, Trump said he also wanted to make clear the decision “is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.”
“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,” the president said. “The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. In the meantime, I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”
By not referring to Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel, the president acknowledged the dispute over the city, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“The final borders will be decided later on,” Kellyanne Conway told Aiello. “We recognize that the peace process must include negotiation and conversation.”
Supporters say Trump is simply recognizing a reality –Israel’s parliament, supreme court and prime minister are all based in Jerusalem.
In a statement, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Trump’s announcement an “important step toward peace” and said his country “will continue to work with the president and his team to make that dream of peace come true.”
The president’s decision also has bipartisan support. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has been pressing for this move for months.
Much of the Muslim world, however, is outraged. Protests erupted in Turkey and Gaza.
“We as Palestinians, we will continue fighting to be and to make Jerusalem as our own capital,” said Palestinian activist Munther Amira.
With calls for three days of rage in response, Trump appealed for calm.
“This sacred city should call forth the best in humanity,” he said. “Not pulling us back and down to the old fights that have become so totally predictable.”
Ahead of the announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump’s decision risks “grave consequences” and possible violence. Other Palestinian officials have issued similar warnings.
“The U.S. is delivering a lethal bullet to the heart of the two-state solution that would be, actually, the kiss-of-death to the two-state solution,” said Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation to the U.S.
Palestinians who stake claim to East Jerusalem, an area the United Nations says is under illegal Israeli military occupation, say it is their capital, and have planned “three days of rage” protests.
Former chief of Israel’s national security council, Eran Lerman, says Palestinians can’t stake claim to any part of the holy city.
“Driving a carving knife across and through and meandering, across a living city, would be a mistake,” he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said earlier that if the U.S. makes the move, it would be a red line for Muslims.
The King of Jordan warned of “dangerous repercussions” but also increased motivation to negotiate.
“It is imperative now to work fast to reach a final status solution and a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis,” Abdullah II said.
Pope Francis has also weighed in, saying he was deeply concerned about the status of Jerusalem and the potential of increased tension. He also called Jerusalem a sacred place for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
But the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, visiting Washington, said the president’s decision is the right one.
“In Jerusalem, we don’t cave to pressure and we don’t let threats or violence stop us from doing what is right,” said Mayor Nir Barkat.
On Tuesday, the State Department warned Americans in Israel to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City, and possibly dangerous protests.
Vice President Mike Pence will visit the region next week. Meanwhile, leaders in the Muslim world plan to meet in Turkey to develop their response.