JERUSALEM (AP) — Vociferous Arab and Muslim opposition was building Tuesday to any possible U.S. recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as European leaders expressed concern about harm to fragile Mideast peace efforts.
President Donald Trump informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call Tuesday that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a holy city whose Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.
Abbas’ office said the Palestinian leader warned Trump of dangerous repercussions for Mideast peace efforts, as well as security and stability in the region and the world.
The statement did not say if Trump gave a timeline for the intended move.
U.S. officials familiar with planning for a possible announcement on Jerusalem said they expect Trump to speak to the matter around midday Wednesday, although the specifics of what he will say were still being debated. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected Trump would make a generic statement about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.”
They said they did not expect the president to use the phrase “undivided capital,” which would imply Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which is not recognized by the United Nations.
They also said Trump planned to sign a waiver delaying for another six months a U.S. legal requirement to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But, they said Trump would likely give wide latitude to David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, to make a determination on when such a move would be appropriate. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.
As discussions continued on Tuesday, pressure from numerous quarters against full-on recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital appeared to have led to the possibility that Trump include comments in his speech that might mitigate the impact of the announcement.
Among the ideas under discussion were Trump giving a nod to Palestinian aspirations to have the capital of an eventual state in east Jerusalem or endorsing the concept of a two-state solution, something he has yet to do. It remained unclear whether any such comments would be included.
Jerusalem is home to the third-holiest shrine of Islam, along with the holiest site in Judaism and major Christian holy sites. It forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered large-scale protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the region.
Meanwhile, opposition to any U.S. policy change toward Jerusalem was building in the Arab and Muslim world.
Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the United States to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Such a step would be a “dangerous measure that would have repercussions” across the region, he said during a Cairo meeting of Arab League representatives.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a “red line” and that his country’s response “could go as far as us cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett played down the threat, saying that “at the end of the day it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan’s sympathy.”
Majdi Khaldi, Abbas diplomatic adviser, said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.
“If the Americans recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then this would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace and that they will have no credibility or role in this issue,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded comments yet by a Palestinian official.
Should recognition occur, “we will stop our contacts with them because such a step goes against our existence and against the fate of our cause,” Khaldi said. “It targets Muslims and Christians alike.”
Palestinian political factions led by Abbas’ Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday.
Key Washington ally Saudi Arabia also spoke out strongly against such a possible step. Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse, is crucial to any White House plans to promote a possible Mideast peace deal.
Saudi Arabia expressed its “grave and deep concern” about possible recognition.
In a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Foreign Ministry said that the kingdom affirms the rights of Palestinian people regarding Jerusalem, which it said “cannot be changed.”
On Monday, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states, said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would constitute “naked aggression” against the Muslim and Arab world.
In Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday night that the fate of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Macron said Tuesday that he expressed concern about any possible unilateral U.S. moves and that he agreed with Trump “to speak again shortly on this subject.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, said any actions that undermine Mideast peace efforts “must be absolutely avoided.”
East Jerusalem, now home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed to its capital, a move most of the international community has not recognized.
Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a future capital. Israel’s current government, unlike its predecessors, rejects the idea of partition of the city. Under international consensus and long-standing U.S. policy, the fate of the city is to be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would upend Washington’s traditional approach to the conflict. It was not immediately clear what Trump could hope to gain from such a step, while downsides include alienating crucial Arab allies, from Saudi Arabia to Jordan.
Laub reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writers Matthew V. Lee in Washington; Josh Lederman in Brussels; Elaine Ganley in Paris; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.