The Palestinian leadership has warned that if US president-elect Donald Trump follows through with his promise to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Middle East peace prospects will be over.
Mr Trump is not the first US politician to promise to move the embassy if elected president, but developments over recent days have the Palestinians worried that this time things may be different, and that the maverick president-elect may actually deliver on his promise.
Last week Mr Trump nominated David Friedman, a lawyer and supporter of West Bank Jewish settlements, as the next ambassador to Israel. Mr Friedman said he looked forward to working for peace "from the US embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem".
Further stoking Palestinian anxiety was the statement from Kellyanne Conway, a senior aide to Mr Trump, who said he had every intention of living up to his promise, made many times during the election campaign, to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
“He made that very clear during the campaign,” she said. “And as president-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly.” Ms Conway also questioned why moving the embassy had not been pursued sooner.
Traditionally, Washington does not recognise any party’s sovereignty over Jerusalem before a final-status peace agreement is concluded. The US Congress passed the Jerusalem embassy act in 1995, calling on the administration to recognise the holy city as Israel’s capital and relocate the embassy there. But the law allowed for the president to waive the move if it was deemed detrimental to American national security interests.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, who headed peace talks with Israel, stressed that the status of Jerusalem should be left to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
He warned that moving the embassy would end any prospects for peace. “No one should take any decisions which may pre-empt or prejudge negotiations because this will be the destruction of the peace process as a whole.”
Aware of the sensitivity of the issue, the Israeli leadership has refrained from commenting on the prospect of moving the embassy, but the Israeli media have speculated which site in Jerusalem may be earmarked for the move.
There is widespread consensus among the Zionist parties that relocating the embassy would be a good idea.
"No relationship between two countries is as close as the relationship between Israel and the US, and therefore it is an anomaly that Washington never recognised Jerusalem as the Jewish state's capital," said deputy minister Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US.
“This move need not prejudice the peace process in any way,” he added.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said the municipality would provide whatever help it could in bringing the move about.