US issues warning to citizens in wake of Jerusalem decision

State Department advice a sign that officials fear violent reaction to Trump announcement

US president Donald Trump, with vice president Mike Pence standing behind him, announces his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

US president Donald Trump, with vice president Mike Pence standing behind him, announces his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

The US State Department has banned its diplomatic staff from visiting Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank for non-essential reasons, as president Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

US authorities also issued a statement asking US citizens to “avoid areas where crowds have gathered and where there is increased police and/or military presence”, in a sign that the US government is bracing itself for possible violence in the wake of the announcement.

Mr Trump broke with decades of US foreign policy on the Middle East on Wednesday by formally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While he signed a waiver delaying the embassy move, he directed the State Department to develop a relocation plan.

Administration officials said the actual process of relocating the embassy could take several years. “It is a practical impossibility to move the embassy tomorrow,” one official said, noting that moving the US embassy in London took eight years.

Officials declined to specify whether the embassy would be located in West Jerusalem. Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital. Approximately 1,000 staff members work in the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Mr Trump made no mention of East Jerusalem or the Palestinians’ claim on the city as their capital in his speech. He described the announcement as “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement”.

“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace,” he said.

He said that ever since the United States recognised the state of Israel under president Harry Truman 70 years ago, Israel had made its capital in the city of Jerusalem.

“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli supreme court. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries,” he said.

Palestinian anger

As things stand the United States will be the only country to locate its embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, though Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and the Czech government also indicated they may consider a similar move.

Officials stressed that the announcement did not have an impact on the US’s broader policy in the region, or on the issue of borders, but the announcement risks igniting Palestinian anger over the United States’s role in the peace process.

Mr Trump said he judged his course of action “to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians”.

“There will of course, be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement,” he said, as he appealed for “calm, for moderation, and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate”.

Several members of Congress welcomed Mr Trump’s decision. “I fully support the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel because this statement reflects the reality on the ground for the last 3,000 years” Republican senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter, adding that it did not take other options off the table regarding a two-state solution.