In a highly-anticipated speech on Wednesday, President Trump announced what he calls a "recognition of reality" - that Jerusalem is, and has long been, the seat of the Israeli government.
"While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering," said Trump, adding that the decision is a “long overdue step to advance the peace process.”
Trump's decision reverses decades of US policy and begins the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.
“It seems clear now that the physical location of the American embassy is not material to a peace deal,” said one senior official. “It’s not an impediment to peace and it’s not a facilitator to peace. After having tried this for 22 years, an acknowledgment of reality seems like an important thing.”
White House officials stressed that the move would have no impact on the boundaries of future Palestinian and Israeli states as negotiated under a final agreement, and Trump suggested he would accept a two-state solution if both sides agreed.
Trump spoke with several world leaders on Tuesday, and nearly all of them warned him not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said the decision would “constitute a flagrant provocation of Muslims all over the world” and Jordan’s King Abdullah said the move would “undermine efforts to resume the peace process.”
Palestinian officials said an embassy move would put an end to US-led peace efforts between the two sides and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to sever ties with Israel.
China, the EU, and France urged Trump not to do anything that would threaten future peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Administration is optimistic about the prospects for a peace deal led by Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, and chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt.
“While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready," said one Administration official. "We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time."
It will take an estimated 3-4 years to plan and construct the new embassy in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was divided in two by barbed wire until 1967, when Israel took control of the city. The international community did not recognize this so-called “unification” of Jerusalem, and embassies stayed put. As part of a later settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, the international community recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Today, both Israel and Palestine regard Jerusalem as their capital. Palestine views Jerusalem as divided into two halves, but the Israelis view it as whole.
“Because of Jerusalem’s disputed status, Mr. Trump now risks derailing a Middle East peace effort that the White House had been working on and could damage strong ties his US Administration has nurtured with Arab states,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
With Trump’s decision, the United States will become the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital since the foundation of the state in 1948. There are more than 80 embassies in Tel Aviv, but no country has its embassy in Jerusalem due to the city's contested status.
In response to Trump's announcement, Palestinian officials announced three "days of rage" and the State Department has warned travelers to avoid the West Bank and Jerusalem’s Old City.