President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that America formally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, changing decades of U.S. policy in a brief afternoon speech and casting the move as a bid to preserve, not derail, aspirations for regional peace.
Appearing in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room against an elaborate backdrop of Christmas decorations, He also said the United States embassy in Israel would, over time, be moved there from Tel Aviv.
Israel is the only country where the United States has an embassy in a city that the host nation does not consider its capital.
‘I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ Trump said. ‘While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today I am delivering.’
‘When I came into office I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking,’ he said, leaning heavily on a mid-1990s federal law that demanded the embassy’s relocation.
‘We have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital – at all,’ Trump added. ‘But today we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.’
‘It is also the right thing to do. It is something that has to be done.’
Every president since Bill Clinton has exercised a waiver in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, effectively kicking the can down the road. Trump said that has brought the world ‘no closer to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.’
A major theme in Trump’s unprecedented statement was his claim that it shouldn’t interfere with longer-term peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
‘This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,’ the president insisted. ‘We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.’
‘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,’ he continued.
‘Those questions are up to the parties involved. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.’
Trump said the United States will continue to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, ‘if agreed to by both sides.’
‘In the meantime, I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites,’ he said.
‘Jerusalem is today, and must remain, a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross and where Muslims pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque,’ Trump added.
And he said that ordering a move of the embassy’s location would ‘immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners so that a new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace.’
America’s friends and foes unleashed fierce criticism before Trump made official what the White House previewed for reporters Tuesday night.
But Trump stuck to his guns, calling his decision an act of political courage.
The president previewed ‘a big announcement’ during a cabinet meeting, which he said concerns ‘Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East. And I think it’s long overdue.’
‘Many presidents have said they want to do something, and they didn’t do it. Whether it’s through courage or they change their mind I can’t tell you. But a lot of people have said we have to do something, and they didn’t do it.’