KUALA, LUMPUR/WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday brought global criticism, with some countries urging Washington to reverse course.
Japan avoided taking a clear stance, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying Tokyo is “monitoring the situation with great interest.”
The issue of the status of Jerusalem “should be settled through U.N. Security Council resolutions, which have been adopted so far, and negotiations between the parties concerned,” he told a news conference.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono later told reporters, “We have concerns that conditions could worsen in the Middle East as a whole, or that the situation of peace in the Middle East could become tougher, so we will keep a close eye on developments.”
At the same time, Kono said, Japan “appreciates President Trump’s strong commitment to promoting a permanent peace agreement and his support for a two-state solution.”
Kono said there will be “absolutely no change” to Japan’s efforts to contribute to the Middle East peace process, and Japan has no intention of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv.
Among other Group of Seven nations, Britain, France, Italy and Germany have directly expressed disagreement with or concern about the U.S. decision.
The U.N. Security Council, for its part, said Wednesday it will meet on Friday in emergency session to discuss the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The talks — requested by eight nations — will begin at 10:00 a.m., but there are other items on the agenda, so the Jerusalem issue may not come up until the late morning, said Japan, which holds the council’s rotating presidency.
Bolivia, Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay requested the talks. They have also asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to open the meeting with remarks.
After Trump’s announcement, Guterres said Jerusalem’s final status could only be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday broke long-standing policy on the Middle East. Observers fear the decision could inflame regional tensions and jeopardize efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The president also directed the State Department to start the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in line with a campaign promise.
Trump and his staff described the move as a recognition of reality on the ground. Israeli government institutions are based in Jerusalem, and the country’s leaders would almost certainly insist as part of any deal that the city be the country’s capital.
“When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges, with open eyes and very fresh thinking,” Trump said. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark,” but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the U.S. had abdicated its role as a mediator in peace efforts.
Right after Trump’s declaration, hundreds of angry Palestinians took to the streets to denounce Trump. Demonstrators burned tires in the towns of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, across Gaza City and in the southern Gaza Strip’s towns of Khan Younis and Rafah.Protests were also reported in Turkey, and images circulated online of demonstrations breaking out throughout the region.
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, believing its status should be resolved in negotiations. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.
Malaysia said Thursday that the United States “must reconsider” its decision, saying the move would end “all efforts” made toward resolving the Palestinian question, “have grave repercussions” for the stability of the Middle East and “inflame sentiments, making efforts to combat terrorism all the more difficult.”
Indonesia joined a chorus of criticism from Muslim-majority countries, with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi saying that Indonesians “condemn” the decision. “Democracy means respecting the international law, (and) the recognition does not respect various U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Retno said at a democracy forum in Jakarta while wearing a Palestinian scarf. “As a democratic country, the U.S. should know what democracy means,” she said.
Trump’s decision fulfills a campaign promise and will please Republican conservatives and evangelicals who make up a sizable portion of his domestic support.
The American president tried to temper his decision by reaffirming U.S. support for a “two-state solution” and saying he wasn’t preempting any final decision about Israel’s borders or sovereignty within Jerusalem. That is important to Palestinians, because they view the eastern part of the city as their future capital, but it is also something they would have already expected in any peace deal, so Trump’s statement rang hollow.
The full impact of Trump’s decision won’t really be known until his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, unveils a plan he has been working on with a small team aimed at forging peace in the Middle East. White House officials conceded that the effort isn’t ready yet and that there will be a cooling off period following Wednesday’s announcement before the administration can move forward with it.
“This step is prejudging, dictating, closing doors for negotiations and I think President Trump tonight disqualified the United States of America to play any role in any peace process,” said Saeb Erekat, the main Palestinian peace negotiator.
Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, warned that the move could backfire well beyond the current global outcry.
That may be why Arab leaders, even key U.S. allies, protested the move so strongly, knowing the president’s move won’t play well among their populations. Trump said he would send Vice President Mike Pence to the region in the coming days “to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who often says, “America first is not America alone” when called on to explain his boss on the world stage stood all by himself amid onslaught from all sides as he visited NATO headquarters in Brussels.
So far, not a single country other than Israel has thrown its support behind the declaration. Even Tillerson’s own State Department has conceded the announcement could sow unrest throughout the Middle East.
Turkey’s top diplomat, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was unsparing in criticism that was far harsher than any the U.S. is accustomed to from a NATO ally.
“The whole world is against this,” Cavusoglu told reporters as he awaited Tillerson’s arrival for their meeting. He said he had already told Trump’s chief diplomat that it was a “grave mistake.” Cavusoglu said he planned to “tell him again.”
As for the time-tested “special relationship” with Britain, it was not so special as to prevent Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson from putting Tillerson on the spot. After the two shook hands, Johnson used the occasion to suggest it was time for Trump’s Mideast peace team to put up or shut up.
“Clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward, and I would say that that should happen as a matter of priority,” Johnson said as Tillerson stood uneasily a few feet away.
While the decision directly affects his department, Tillerson acknowledged his role was relatively minimal. He said Trump’s Mideast peace team, led by Kushner, had shared the decision with him so he could “give them guidance on areas that I thought would be challenging to address.”
“They’ve done the hard work to try to address those,” Tillerson said, insisting there remains “a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved, and the president has a team that is devoted to that entirely.”