US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital

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What did Trump just do?

US President Donald Trump has confirmed that the US will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite opposition from a number of world leaders. The US embassy is to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said he had "determined it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," adding that the move was a "recognition of reality."

Flouting numerous warnings from Arab and European leaders, Trump said he was directing his government to begin preparations to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He said he was acting under a 1995 law that required the United States to relocate its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem. 

Read more: US Embassy move to Jerusalem could spark 'third intifada' Germany's former ambassador says

"While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver," he said. "Today, I am delivering."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said afterwards that the US would immediately begin implementing plans to relocate the embassy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump's announcement as a "historic landmark." His, however, was the only country to applaud the move.

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Trump pledges to continue peace process

Despite facilitating the move, which is bound to stoke tensions in the region, Trump vowed to do everything in his power to help forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital was part a new approach to the Middle East peace process, Trump said, without going into further detail.

Read more: Opinion: Middle East too important for Trump treatment

He also said his government remained committed to a two-state solution and that the "status quo" should remain for the Temple Mount as a holy site for three major religions.

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However, the move breaks away with decades of foreign policy in the Middle East. Despite Israel having prodded the US for decades to recognize Jerusalem as the capital, presidents had refrained in an effort to remain neutral as the contested city's borders are still to be determined in a hoped-for peace deal.

By recognizing Israel's claim to Jerusalem, Trump is seen by the Palestinians as siding with Israel on one of the most sensitive issue in the conflict. The Palestinians have demanded that east Jerusalem - which Israel captured in 1967 - be recognized as their capital.

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Palestinian negotiator: US 'disqualified' from peace process

In an immediate response to Trump's announcement, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) warned that the US' decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital effectively destroyed the chance a two-state solution. 

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, who has long served as one of the Palestinians' top negotiators, said that Trump had "disqualified his country from any role whatsoever" in the future peace process. "As a chief Palestinian negotiator, how can I sit with these people if they dictate on me the future of Jerusalem as Israel's capital," he added.

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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas echoed those remarks, saying in a speech that Trump's move amounted to "an announcement of US withdrawal from playing the role it has been playing in the past decade in sponsoring the peace process."

Abbas added: "These deplorable and unacceptable measures deliberately undermine all peace efforts." 

Protests erupt in the Palestinian territories

Leading up to Trump's announcement, hundreds of Palestinians rallied across the Gaza Strip, burning Israeli and US flags, as well as pictures of Trump. There were also reports of small clashes in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, although there were no reports of injuries. 

Palestinian officials also called for three days of protests — or what have been dubbed "days of rage" — starting Wednesday.

Some US embassies in the Middle East issued warning to government officials and their families to exercise caution in the vicinity of any large protests and remain cautious.

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Regional and international leaders respond

Trump's announcement prompted a spate of reaction from across the world.

The speaker for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German government does not support the US' position, because Jerusalem's status was still to be settled as part of negotiations on a two-state solution.

The European Union's chief diplomat Federica Mogherini warned that Trump's announcement could have "repercussions" on the prospect of peace, adding that "the aspirations of both parties (Israelis and Palestinians) must be fulfilled and a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states."

France's President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said Trump's Jerusalem move was 'regrettable" and that it "contravenes international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions." He also called for calm from all sides, with violence avoided.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, said he would "do everything in my power to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to meaningful negotiations, adding that there was "no alternative" to the two-state solution.

Egypt, one of two Arab nations to have diplomatic links with Israel, also decried the move. "Such unilateral decisions violate international legitimacy resolutions and will not change the legal status of the city of Jerusalem as being under occupation," Egypt's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Jordan, the other Arab nation with official links to Israel, warned that the move violated international law.  Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani said the US' announcement on Wednesday "constitutes a violation of decisions of international law and the United Nations charter."

Read more: Arab world warns US not to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli capital|Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter that the move was "irresponsible" and that "the decision is against international law and relevant UN resolutions."

UN chief: No plan B to the two-state solution

Other reactions were less diplomatic. Hamas, the militant organization that in recent years has governed the Gaza Strip, warned that Trump's decision would "open the gates of hell" on US interests in the region.

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UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.


Camp David Accords, 1978

A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.


The Madrid Conference, 1991

The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinians — not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.


Oslo I Accord, 1993

The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.


Camp David Summit Meeting, 2000

US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to discuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.


The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002

The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt — all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.


The Roadmap, 2003

The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.


Annapolis, 2007

In 2007 US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.


Washington, 2010

In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a ten-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.


Cycle of escalation and ceasefire continues

A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.


Paris Summit, 2017

Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as "rigged" against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. "A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.


Deteriorating relations in 2017

Despite the year's optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump's plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say "the measures ... undermine all peace efforts."

dm/jm (Reuters, AP)