U.S. President Donald Trump will formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city and kick-start the process of moving the U.S. embassy there, reversing decades of American policy, defying the United Nations and further complicating the Middle East peace process.
Mr. Trump will make the announcement at 1 p.m. Wednesday, said three administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity. The President gave an advance heads-up Tuesday to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
White House sources framed the move as a simple recognition of the reality on the ground: Israel's parliament, prime minister and Supreme Court are all located in Jerusalem. And the current U.S. policy of keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv has not succeeded in bringing about a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they argued.
The officials said Mr. Trump's announcement will not change the U.S.'s policy of backing a two-state solution, in which the Palestinian people would receive their own state. They also insisted that it is not meant to determine the future status of Jerusalem, whose eastern portion the Palestinians want as a capital.
The presidential declaration on Jerusalem's status is expected to simply declare the city is Israel's capital, but will avoid the language Israel uses on a "complete and united" Jerusalem.
But the move has already met condemnation from Arab and European leaders. The United Nations does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and views its east side – along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip – as occupied territory.
The Trudeau government, for its part, said Tuesday it will not be changing its position on Jerusalem. A government official told The Globe and Mail that Ottawa will keep its embassy in Tel Aviv and will continue not to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Mr. Trump promised during the 2016 election campaign to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The prospect has been on the table since 1995, when then-president Bill Clinton signed a law mandating such a move. But Mr. Clinton, and every president since, has deferred the move every six months.
Mr. Trump is set to sign another deferment, but will order the State department to take concrete steps to make the move happen. Officials said Tuesday there was no firm timeline, but it would likely take at least three or four years. They said a location still has to be chosen and money allocated. The officials said it had not even been decided whether the embassy would be in West Jerusalem.
The President has insisted he will strike a "deal of the century" to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and has even asked his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to broker it. But Mr. Trump's move this week is almost certain to make any such negotiations even more fraught by Washington taking Israel's side.
The Associated Press quoted Majdi Khaldi, an adviser to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, as saying that the U.S. may have to give up its role as a broker in the conflict because of Mr. Trump's move. He added that Palestinian authorities may even break off contact with Washington.
"This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace," he told the AP.
The authority's chief delegate to Washington, Husam Zomlot, described the move to the AP as "a stab in the back."
Saudi Arabia's King Salman told Mr. Trump that the move "would harm peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region" and constituted "a flagrant provocation to all Muslims, all over the world" during their call, according to a summary of the discussion from Riyadh. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel if Mr. Trump crossed what he called a "red line."
Even French President Emmanuel Macron fired a warning shot, saying that he told Mr. Trump by telephone that Jerusalem's status had to be determined as part of the peace process.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that all parties in the peace process have committed to staying engaged. But the U.S. government separately prepared itself for violence: The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem told American expatriates to stay away from the West Bank or the Old City of Jerusalem, and urged Americans to watch out for added military presence.
Jerusalem is a holy city to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, with major sites for all three religions, and it has been at the centre of conflagrations in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
- With a report from Michelle Zilio in Ottawa, The Associated Press and Reuters