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Canada will not move embassy to Jerusalem, federal government says

A general view shows part of Jerusalem's Old City on Dec. 5, 2017.

AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The Trudeau government says it will not move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem amid reports U.S. President Donald Trump will relocate the American embassy to the holy city and recognize it as the country's capital.

A government official told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that Canada will keep its embassy in Tel Aviv. The official also said Canada still does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city, despite reports Mr. Trump will declare the U.S. does during a speech on Wednesday.

Is Jerusalem Israel's capital or not? A primer on a messy question and Trump's divisive answer

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Trump to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Mr. Trump told Arab leaders on Tuesday that he intends to follow through with his election-campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Mr. Trump disappointed the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped him win the presidency when he delayed the embassy move in June.

The move risks fuelling violence in the Middle East and breaks with decades of U.S. foreign policy that Jerusalem's status must be decided in negotiation with the Palestinians, who want to make East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

The international community, including Canada, does not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Asked about Mr. Trump's plan to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada's position on Jerusalem has not changed.

"Canada's long-standing position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative," press secretary Adam Austen said in a statement Tuesday.

"We are strongly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's spokesperson Jake Enwright said "it's up to sovereign governments to make decisions about where they will locate their foreign embassies." In a tweet, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said Mr. Trump's decision to name Jerusalem the capital is "dangerous, misguided, and will undermine attempts for a peace process," and urged Ms. Freeland to inform her U.S. counterparts of Canada's concerns.

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Jerusalem is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, as well as Israel's democratically-elected parliament, independent supreme court and national government. David Cape, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the organization has long called on Canada to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

"Jerusalem has been central to Jewish identity since it was established as the capital of the Jewish nation three thousand years ago," Mr. Cape said.

"We have always maintained that Canada should formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Former prime minister Joe Clark attempted to move the Canadian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1979, but abandoned his election pledge after an Arab uproar. In a brief statement at the time, Mr. Clark said the plan was seen as "prejudicing" Middle East peace talks. Mr. Clark's plan to move the embassy endangered contracts with Canadian businesses, including a multibillion-dollar project involving Bell Canada in Saudi Arabia, and threatened to bring more drastic retaliatory measures against Canada, according to a Washington Post report from October, 1979.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who all received phone calls from Mr. Trump, joined a chorus of voices warning that unilateral steps on Jerusalem would derail the U.S.-led peace effort and cause turmoil in the region. In the past, Islamist militant groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have sought to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem in attempts to add fuel to anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiments.

- With a report from Reuters

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