The White House on Tuesday night announced it will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel moving forward and said it has directed State Department officials to begin plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a decision that has been met with widespread consternation and criticism.
Senior administration officials told reporters that the decision was made in “recognition of reality, both historic reality…and modern reality”, and noted that it would “fulfill several campaign promises” that President Trump made during the 2016 election.
In a phone call with reporters, the officials stated that Trump “remains committed to achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.” They added that he is “prepared to recognize a two-state solution,” should both sides come to that agreement — despite the fact that the decision to move the embassy would inherently kill any two-state peace talks, as Palestinian authorities have suggested.
As ThinkProgress has previously noted, East Jerusalem is traditionally recognized as the future home of a Palestinian state, but has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 and does not house any international embassies. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or declaring it the capital of Israel, then, complicates the ongoing Middle East peace process, which Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner is charged with overseeing.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after months of back and forth on the issue, with the Trump administration refusing to confirm or deny whether it would move the embassy in accordance with the Jerusalem Act, which designated the city as Israel’s capital in 1995. The federal law contains a provision that allows the president to sign a waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for national security reasons, a loophole that Trump’s predecessors have all utilized in recognition of global consensus on the issue. On Tuesday, officials stated that Trump would continue to sign the Jerusalem Act waiver every six months until the embassy opens, or until Congress changes the law.
Talk of Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital city of Israel ignited outrage among international quarters this week, with several regional leaders condemning the move.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that “Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world” and cautioning that “the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also criticized the decision, calling it “a red line for Muslims.” Saudi Arabia too has said it has “deep concerns” and “remains in support of the Palestinian people” who would be affected by any U.S. policy change.
According to Bloomberg, spokespersons for both Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated on Tuesday that Trump had called both leaders to inform them of his decision, as well as his intent to move the U.S. embassy. They noted, however, that Trump had not given them a concrete timeline for the official move.
On Tuesday evening, senior administration officials told reporters that the embassy move would likely take at least three to four years, explaining that it would simply be “impractical” to uproot embassy staff in Tel Aviv any sooner than that. They did not give an expected date of completion or say whether the new building would be located in East or West Jerusalem, only that it would be built in an “appropriate site.”
When asked about concerns from foreign leaders in the region, the officials punted, stating instead that the president had held “many, many discussions” with them and had decided it “was the right time to make this move” regardless.
They added that Trump had the “full support” of his peace team in making the decision.