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Politics Canadians urged to exercise caution in Mideast after Trump’s Jerusalem announcement

Vice-President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House on Dec. 6, 2017.

Evan Vucci/AP

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland added her voice to a chorus of global leaders appealing for calm in the Middle East on Wednesday in the wake of the Trump administration's move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Canadians in the region were being urged to exercise caution around planned protests against the U.S. announcement, which included a process to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, upending decades of the U.S. policy.

By recognizing Israel's claim to Jerusalem, Trump is seen by the Palestinians as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the conflict. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem – which Israel captured in 1967 – for their capital.

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But Trump declared it was time for a new approach to Mideast peace after decades of failure. Calling Jerusalem Israel's capital, he argued, was merely recognizing the obvious.

"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," the president said.

Freeland had been briefed on the announcement in a call Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sources told The Canadian Press. The two are together this week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where Tillerson has been getting an earful from world leaders over Trump's move.

Canada will keep its embassy in Tel Aviv and its policy that the status of Jerusalem depends on the outcome of peace talks, the same approach most countries have had in place for decades.

"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," Freeland said in a statement.

"We call for calm and continue to support the building of conditions necessary for the parties to find a solution."

World leaders from the Pope to the Chinese government raised concerns Wednesday that Trump's move would further escalate tensions in the region and threaten the ongoing peace process, as well as any potential for the U.S. to broker any kind of peace.

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In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his nation was "profoundly grateful" and Trump's announcement was an "important step toward peace."

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the U.S. shift "is a declaration of withdrawal from the role it has played in the peace process."

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said the U.S. decision was counterproductive and Canada should speak up.

"It is something that needs to be pointed out as being divisive," Singh said.

The Conservatives offered no comment, perhaps remembering their own political history.

Much like Trump's decision was part of a campaign promise, in 1979, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark made a similar promise ahead of the federal campaign.

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He reiterated it upon winning power, but after a significant outcry from business and community leaders, backed away from the idea.

Even former prime minister Stephen Harper, a staunch supporter of Israel, never proposed the idea, though his former foreign affairs minister courted some controversy when he met with an Israeli politician in east Jerusalem, which many diplomats refuse to do.

But that the proposal continues to have some political traction domestically was evident during the campaign to replace Harper, when contender Kellie Leitch proposed moving the embassy as part of her platform.

She wouldn't comment Wednesday.

Groups who advocate on behalf of the Jewish community do feel the Liberals should follow Trump.

"Since the re-establishment of the modern State of Israel, Jerusalem has been the home to Israel's democratically elected parliament, independent supreme court, and national government offices," the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement.

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

With files from the Associated Press

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