US president Donald Trump told Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday he intends to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a Palestinian spokesman has said, amid a growing outcry across the Middle East against any unilateral US decision on the ancient city.
Senior US officials have said Mr Trump is likely on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while delaying relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, though he is expected to order his aides to begin planning such a move immediately. The officials said, however, that no final decisions have been made.
US endorsement of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital would break with decades of US policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.
Mr Abbas joined a mounting chorus of voices saying the US move could unleash turmoil.
"President Mahmoud Abbas received a telephone call from US president Donald Trump in which he notified the president of his intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
The statement did not say whether Mr Trump, who was also due to talk to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday, specified the timing of such a move.
Mr Abbas “warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world,” Mr Abu Rdainah said.
Israeli intelligence minister Israel Katz, who met last week with US officials in Washington, told Israel’s Army Radio: “My impression is that the president will recognize Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, as the capital of the state of Israel.”
Asked whether Israel was preparing for a wave of violence if Mr Trump does so, he said: "We are preparing for every option. Anything like that can always erupt. If Abu Mazen (Mr Abbas) will lead it in that direction, then he will be making a big mistake."
Turkey threatened on Tuesday to cut diplomatic ties with Israel if Mr Trump makes the move.
Senior US officials told Reuters some officers in the State Department were deeply concerned, while the EU, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Arab League all warned any such declaration would have repercussions across the region.
"Mr Trump, Jerusalem is the red line of Muslims," Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling AK Party.
"This can go as far as severing Turkey's ties with Israel. I am warning the United States not to take such a step which will deepen the problems in the region."
Mr Netanyahu has so far declined to speculate on what Mr Trump might say.
But Mr Katz took to Twitter to reject Turkey's threat and reiterate Israel's position on the ancient city, which is one of a long list of stumbling blocks in years of failed peace talks with the Palestinians.
“We don’t take orders or accept threats from the president of Turkey,” he wrote.
Kicked up resistance
Two US officials said on condition of anonymity that news of the plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had kicked up resistance from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA), which deals with the region.
“Senior [officials] in NEA and a number of ambassadors from the region expressed their deep concern about doing this,” said one official, saying that the concerns focused on “security”.
The State Department referred questions to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A fourth US official said the consensus US intelligence estimate on US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that it would risk triggering a backlash against Israel, and also potentially against US interests in the Middle East.
It could also derail a fledgling Israeli-Palestinian peace effort led by Mr Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
US allies added their warnings.
The EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Tuesday that "any action that would undermine" peace efforts to create two separate states for the Israelis and the Palestinians "must absolutely be avoided".
Speaking alongside US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Brussels, she said Jerusalem's status would have to be agreed through negotiations.
The Arab League and Saudi Arabia repeated past warnings, following statements by France and Jordan in recent days.
Past Israeli-Palestinian rifts have deteriorated into protests, attacks and fighting, and further destabilised the region.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognised internationally.
France's president, Emmanuel Macron, warned Mr Trump earlier the move was a bad idea.
In a phone call with the US president, Mr Macron “expressed his concern with the possibility that the United States might unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as capital of the state of Israel”, according to a statement issued by the French government.
"Mr Macron," the statement said, "reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and particularly those relating to the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Jerusalem as their capital."
Mr Trump had promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Under a law passed in 1995, the US president has to sign a national security waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, and that deadline expired on Monday. – Reuters/New York Times