JERUSALEM — Arab nations and Palestinian officials have warned of dire consequences if the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, including potential unrest and an end to the peace process, amid last-minute lobbying to prevent President Trump from making the move.
In a late-night call Sunday, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that such a decision could “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,” according to Jordan’s state news agency.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, also discussed with Tillerson the “possible negative impacts” on peace, according to a ministry spokesman. He asked that Tillerson avoid taking decisions that could “stir tensions in the region.”
Turkey said a change in policy would be a “major catastrophe.” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, meanwhile, called for an emergency meeting of the 22 members of the Arab League, which is expected to take place Tuesday.
“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said in a statement, the Reuters news agency reported. “The kingdom’s policy has been and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration.”
For more than two decades, successive U.S. presidents have signed a waiver every six months that allows them to delay a move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on national security grounds. During his campaign, Trump vowed to relocate the U.S. Embassy but reluctantly signed the waiver six months ago as his administration attempts to broker a peace process.
The White House was expected to let Monday’s deadline for the next signing pass unmentioned, a signal that a shift is likely to be in the works. Trump is likely to outline a new policy on Jerusalem and the embassy in a speech Wednesday, an administration official said.
Israel claims Jerusalem in its entirety as its eternal and undivided capital, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Despite the critical statements by Jordan and Egypt, Palestinians may find it hard to coordinate genuinely robust opposition at a time when Arab states increasingly see their security interests aligned with Israel’s against their shared enemy, Iran.
In the Knesset on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed an “unprecedented” shift in the Arab states’ attitude to Israel.
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said Sunday that Trump is “close” to making a decision on Jerusalem but is “still looking at a lot of facts.” Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan in 1967 in the Six-Day War, later annexing it in a move considered illegal by the United Nations.
Palestinian officials have warned that recognition of the city as Israel’s capital will end U.S.-brokered peace efforts, which they have already complained appear biased toward Israel. Calling it Israel’s “undivided” capital would mark an even more dramatic step, effectively recognizing Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month expressed surprise after the United States threatened to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization's Washington office unless the Palestinians engaged in meaningful peace talks.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “is offensive and contrary to the role of the U.S. administration as a mediator and sponsor of the peace process,” the Palestinian deputy premier, Ziad Abu Amr, told the U.S. consul general for Jerusalem, Donald Blome, in a meeting in Ramallah on Monday, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. It “closes every door to the continuation of a serious peace process, and pushes the entire region into more tension and instability.”
“The status of Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been determined by international agreements,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said after a cabinet meeting on Monday, according to Reuters. “It is important to preserve Jerusalem’s status for the sake of protecting peace in the region.”
Eran Lerman, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said threats of violence amounted to a “toy gun.”
“These are attempts to manipulate the American administration,” he said on a conference call organized by the Israel Project, a pro-Israel media advocacy organization. “They are actually counterproductive. I don’t think this administration responds very well to crude threats.”
The State Department has warned embassies of potential unrest and anti-American protests this week related to an announcement, according to U.S. officials.
Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.