Noting that Jerusalem is the ancient capital of the Jewish state of Israel, and home to its legislature, supreme court, president, and prime minister, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that the peace process in the Middle East isn’t aided by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem is the seat of government for Israel.
In his address to the media, the president added:
When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches.
My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The president then formally recognized Jerusalem, “the ancient capital of the Jewish people,” as the capital of the State of Israel, which fulfilled one-half of his famous campaign promise made at the 2016 AIPAC conference in New York City. He said he recognized the decision was sensitive for a number of countries, but that withholding the recognition had done nothing to propel peace initiatives over the past 20-plus years.
He said doing so now is a "long-overdue step" that is "in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
The president noted the declaration has broad bipartisan support, citing the Jerusalem Recognition Act of 1995, which was unanimously reaffirmed by the Senate earlier this year. In response to criticisms of past presidential waivers, he added:
Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.
Additionally, the president said he has directed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would fulfill the other half of his campaign promise, which won over a number of otherwise skeptical evangelical faith leaders during the course of the election cycle.
Prior to the president's announcement, the heads of Jerusalem's Christian churches all signed a letter urging him not to go ahead with the declaration. The letter, which warned of "irreparable harm" caused by the declaration, stated:
We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division. We ask from you, Mr President, to help us all walk towards more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all.
The patriarchs' plea was that the president continue to recognize the "international status" of Jerusalem. Following the speech, the White House issued a summary of his policy plan, which highlighted the following points:
- President Trump recognizes that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.
- President Trump reaffirms United States support for the status quo at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al Sharif.
- President Trump remains committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and he is optimistic that peace can be achieved.
- Delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has not helped achieve peace over the past two decades.
- President Trump is prepared to support a two-state solution to the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, if agreed to by the parties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response, delivered by Twitter within the last few minutes, was simple:
An historic day!
The White House had announced Tuesday that Netanyahu was personally informed of the president's decision in a phone call from the Oval Office. The Palestinians and their Arab allies were similarly informed.
Western allies have also weighed in, generally in opposition to the decision, saying it would impede the peace process and lead to more Muslim violence. Another naysayer was Pope Francis, who expressed his support for the “status quo” in Jerusalem.
"I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days. At the same time, I appeal strongly for all to respect the city's status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions. Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It holds a special vocation for peace. I pray to God that this identity is preserved and reinforced, for the sake of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail."
The pontiff said that with an “already volatile world that is wracked by so many cruel conflicts,” he did not wish to see new tensions added.