Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the modern state of Israel. He said that he is directing the State Department to begin preparations to build a new embassy in Jerusalem. Trump said that he came to office with open eyes with regard to the perennial peace process in the Middle East. “We cannot come into office making the same failed assumptions as in the past,” he said. Trump added, “My announcement marks a new approach.”

Referring to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was reaffirmed by a vote in the Senate this year, Trump said that his predecessors used waivers to prevent the move of the U.S. diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Saying that previous presidents may have lacked sufficient courage, Trump said, “After two decades of waivers, we are no closer” to a peace deal and called it “folly to assume” doing the same thing will improve matters.

“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said while Vice President Mike Pence looked on. Trump said that the new embassy “will be a magnificent tribute to peace.” Saying that the decision is not mean to disturb future peace negotiations, he said, “We are not taking a position on any final-status issues,” adding that he intends “to do everything in my power” to facilitate peace talks.

Saying that the move was “long overdue,” Trump said he was delivering on promises earlier presidents had failed to give. 

Muslim leaders such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have warned the president that his decision may provoke Muslims to violence and also diminish the likelihood of peace talks. The Palestinian Authority continues to claim East Jerusalem as its rightful capital city. 

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters in Belgium that the president “is very committed to the Middle East peace process.” At NATO headquarters, Tillerson said, “We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved, and the president has a team that is devoted to that entirely.” He continued, “That team has been working very diligently on new approaches to the peace process. They’ve been engaged in a quiet way with many in the region around that process.”

The project of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will take several years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Currently, there is a U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. Due to the length of time involved in the process, Trump signed the periodic waiver on Wednesday that retains the embassy in Tel Aviv: a step that is required by a 1995 law calling for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem.
 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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