Abbas warns US against moving embassy to Jerusalem

Fate of East Jerusalem meant to be decided in talks between Palestinians and Israelis

Ultra Orthodox Jews look at the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Ultra Orthodox Jews look at the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images


Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned the Trump administration on Friday that a decision to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be regarded by Palestinians as legitimising Israel’s 1967 occupation and annexation of the holy city.

Without mentioning the administration, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina said the only just solution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute involved the emergence of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“East Jerusalem, with its holy places, is the beginning and end of any solution and any project that saves the region from destruction,” Mr Abu Rudaina stated.

All 86 embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv because the fate of East Jerusalem is meant to be decided in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. During the US presidential election campaign, however, Donald Trump pledged to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a promise made but not acted upon by previous presidents and mandated under a 1965 law by Congress.

Although he said he would not move the embassy until he had given securing a peace deal “a shot”, the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz reported that he might decide to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but delay the embassy move.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Photograph: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Photograph: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Doing either would likely finish off long-stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, the two-state solution involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and the role of the US as mediator. It would also weaken the already precarious position of Abbas, godfather of the failed Oslo peace process, who abandoned the Palestinian armed struggle in favour of negotiations.

Without the political horizon of self-determination in a state, Palestinians could demand the disbandment of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Abbas, which was created under the Oslo accords to administer Palestinian urban areas in the West Bank until a Palestinian state came into being.

Push for new talks

King Abdullah of Jordan and other world leaders have urged the Trump administration to abide by the status quo and press Israel to resume talks with the Palestinians on the basis of the two-state solution.

As guardian of Muslim shrines in Jerusalem and with half its population of Palestinian origin, Jordan would be placed in an invidious position, as the kingdom only recognised and made peace with Israel in 1994 after it was expected that Palestinians and Israelis would reach an agreement.

The only other Arab state to make peace with Israel, Egypt, would also find itself in a difficult situation. The treaty, signed in 1979, has never been popular with Egyptians and has resulted in a “cold peace”. Other Muslim countries would be obliged to protest, as Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam.

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, the annexed area of East Jerusalem is home to 370,000 Palestinians and 280,000 Israelis, settled there “in order to ensure a Jewish majority in [this sector of] Jerusalem”. This would be in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer by an occupying power of its citizens into an occupied area.