BERLIN — Despite strong criticism from the Middle East and carefully worded rebukes from U.S. allies, President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday and announced plans to eventually relocate the U.S. Embassy there, a decision that upends decades of U.S. policy.
Several countries are warning that the move could worsen relations between Palestinians and Israelis and spark unrest in the region.
Important U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East such as Britain, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia criticized Trump over his decision and questioned the wisdom of such a move, both prior to and following the announcement. Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court issued a statement Thursday, calling the decision “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” Similar concerns were voiced by the United Arab Emirates.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the pronouncement on Wednesday evening, saying that the “German government does not support this position, because the status of Jerusalem is to be resolved in the framework of a two-state solution,” according to a tweet by her spokesman.
Her words were echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who criticized the move as “a regrettable decision that France does not approve of and goes against international law and all the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson similarly indicated that such a move could further disrupt efforts to reach peace in the region. “Clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward, and I would say that that should happen as a matter of priority,” Johnson said Wednesday morning as he stood next to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at NATO headquarters in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May indicated that she would discuss the decision with Trump and emphasized that Britain's position to not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital remained unchanged.
In the Netherlands, criticism of Trump was unusually strong. “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 in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t think we can use another conflict in this very explosive region.” Zijlstra said he had conveyed his concerns to Tillerson during a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
Tillerson, speaking with reporters about six hours ahead of Trump's speech, brushed off criticisms that the Jerusalem decision is more likely to doom prospects for peace than advance them.
“We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved,” he said, urging people to listen to Trump's full speech and its context before passing judgment. “The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process. … He has a team he put into place. That team has been working very diligently.”
Tillerson's message was one he has delivered repeatedly during the NATO meeting. Since he arrived in Brussels on Monday night, virtually every diplomat who has met with the secretary of state has raised objections to Trump’s plan, although Tillerson said they did not spend much time discussing it. But the issue at times pushed him to the sidelines as a silent bystander while his counterparts aired their unhappiness.
Perhaps the strongest warning came out of Sweden, where Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said the changes are “obviously going to lead to massive effects and unease.”
“It’s catastrophic,” Wallström said.
Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders criticized Trump’s move as “very dangerous,” adding that it made a surge in violence in the region more likely.
The announcement dominated European news coverage Wednesday, especially in countries such as Germany, France and Britain, where anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in recent years — partially because of an escalation of tensions between Israel and Palestinians. European nations have hosted multiple interfaith events to discuss ways to de-escalate, and Pope Francis was among the leaders speaking out in favor of preserving the status quo of Jerusalem, which is considered a holy city by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“The Holy Land is for us Christians the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind,” the pope said. “The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be.” The pope also spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.
Abbas reached out to the presidents of Russia and France, as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan, on Tuesday, urging them to stop the Trump administration's formal recognition of Jerusalem.
Several protests broke out in Jordan minutes after Trump’s declaration on Wednesday. Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the younger brother of King Abdullah II, tweeted the strongest statement by any Jordanian figure, writing: “What an exceptionally irresponsible and dangerous step by Mr Trump that will destroy any remaining US credibility as a broker in the Middle East Peace Process and deal a severe blow to any hope for a JUST and lasting peace #Jerusalem.”
Jordanian royals' statements on social media are often vetted by the country's Royal Court, which indicates that the strong criticism coming from the important Middle Eastern U.S. ally was also supported by other Jordanian officials.
In Russia, the Kremlin also joined the list of nations fearing that such a move will exacerbate tensions between Israel and Palestinians, saying that the situation could worsen as a result.
It was one of the few times a Kremlin foreign policy goal has converged with that of most NATO member states. In a tweet posted after a Wednesday morning meeting with Tillerson but before Trump's announcement, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the administration's imminent Jerusalem announcement a “grave mistake.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the U.S. plan is “unlawful” and could have “irreversible consequences” in the region.
“Jerusalem is a very delicate subject in the world of Islam,” Yildirim said at a news conference in Seoul, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. “Wrong steps in this direction would bring irreversible consequences,” he said, adding that such a move could spur “a new conflict between religions.”
His comments came one day after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Jerusalem a “red line” for the Muslim world and threatened to cut ties with Israel. Erdogan and Abdullah warned Wednesday that the U.S. move would play into the hands of terrorists. A special summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was scheduled for Dec. 13 to discuss the issue.
Michael Birnbaum and Carol Morello in Brussels, Taylor Luck in Amman and Erin Cunningham in Istanbul contributed to this report.