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After Trump’s embassy decision, Israelis rejoice, brace for violence

The president of the world’s most powerful nation recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, becoming the first country to do so in the 70-year history of the Jewish state.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday night, confirming days of rampant speculation of this announcement. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

Trump, standing in front of a Christmas tree in the White House, delivered on his campaign promise and gave Israel perhaps the best Hanukkah gift ahead of the holiday which begins next week.

“I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the president continued. “This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”

Trump noted that this audacious move marks “a new approach” to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The American Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 which calls for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The act came with a waiver that the American president can delay the move by six months — a waiver used every time for more than 20 years.

“Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time,” Trump said. “Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”

While Trump stressed that his decision did not rule on final status arrangements of the city, which Palestinians also claim as their capital, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital goes a long way to declare Israel a Jewish state — a sticking point of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

SECURITY CONCERNS

Israeli exuberance was muted by fears of Palestinian retribution in the form of terror attacks and demonstrations. A spokesman for the terrorist group Hamas said the Trump announcement “opens the gates of hell.”

“Trump’s decision on Jerusalem will not succeed in changing the fact that Jerusalem is an Arab Muslim land,” the Hamas spokesman said. The terror group called for a Palestinian “Day of Rage” on Friday.

Israeli troops were bracing for possible violence and terror attacks after Trump’s announcement. Terror organizations and Palestinian “national and Islamic forces” called for three days of rage starting Dec. 6. Hamas called for a Palestinian “day of rage” on Friday.

In light of the announcement and threats of violence, the U.S. State Department ordered government employees to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank until further notice. In fact, Reuters reported that a U.S. State Department document asks Israelis to restrain their response until Washington can assess the expected backlash.

“While I recognize that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response,” the document said. “We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on US facilities and personnel overseas.”

In demonstrations in Bethlehem and Gaza, protestors burned pictures of Trump and the American and Israeli flags.

ISRAELI REACTION

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump, noting that “Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years” and a focal point of the Jewish people for millenium.

“So its rare to be able to speak of new and genuine milestones in the glorious history of this city,” Netanyahu said. “Yet today’s pronouncement by Pres. Trump is such an occasion.”

The prime minister said the status quo of the holy sites and freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims will continue unchanged.

President Reuven Rivlin called it a “landmark” move.

“The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the relocation of all embassies to the city, is a landmark in the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to our land, and a milestone on our road to peace — peace for all the residents of Jerusalem and the whole region,” he said in a statement.

Arab Knesset Member Ayman Odeh called Trump “a pyromaniac.”

“Trump is a pyromaniac, and will set the entire region ablaze with his madness,” Odeh said. “If one thing has been made clear in recent days, it’s that the U.S. should not remain the broker of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ahmad Tibi, another Arab Knesset member, said such a move would “seriously damage” prospects for a two-state solution.

“This is an unreasonable move that is in violation of international law,” said Tibi. “It’s ridiculous that President Trump’s campaign promise ends up being ‘diplomatic terrorism,’ which will seriously damage the vision for two states.”

REGIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

In the days leading up to his Wednesday announcement, Trump spoke separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah apparently to inform them of his decision.

Several Muslim nations expressed their opposition to such a move and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Israel. He said such a move by the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would constitute a “red line” for Muslims.

Even Jerusalem church leaders warned that changing the status of Jerusalem will cause “irreparable harm” to the holy city and its residents. In a letter from 12 Orthodox patriarchs, the city’s Lutheran and Episcopalian bishops to the American president, the church leaders said that “any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.”

“We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny,” the letter said.

WILL OTHER COUNTRIES FOLLOW SUIT?

According to Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, since speculation arose this week about Trump’s announcement, other countries have also contacted the Foreign Ministry to explore moving their embassies to Jerusalem, including an unnamed state in Eastern Europe. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte also sent a message to Israel that he wants to move his country’s embassy, Kan reported.

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman was also expected to recognize the city as Israel’s capital in an interview Thursday and Israel claims the country will also move its embassy.

However, several countries condemned the move including many Muslim nations such as Iran, Indonesian, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.
For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good.” 

Psalms 122:6-9

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N.J. Schiavi is news editor of KNI.

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