U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that America is to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump is reported to have made this decision in order to among other things fulfill an election campaign promise and satisfy his core support among evangelical and conservative Christians.
The BBC reported Mr Trump also approved moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, making America the first country in the world to officially recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At present, 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv, none in Jerusalem.
Within minutes of Trump’s announcement, US embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Germany and Britain issued security alerts urging Americans to exercise vigilance and caution. Leaders from within the Muslim world and from the wider international community were swift to criticise the move, and warned of the potential for violence and bloodshed as a result.
Trump’s administration earlier said the move is not intended to come on the side of Israel when it comes to territory dispute with Palestine, with the White House stating that it simply reflects the “fundamental truth” of Jerusalem’s status.
“The president believes this is a recognition of reality,” a White House official told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact.”
Some evangelicals have hailed Trump’s decision however, church leaders, such as Pope Francis, expressed concern.
In remarks delivered in the diplomatic reception room of the White House, Trump called his decision “a long overdue” step to advance the peace process.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
Trump said: “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“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 announcement broke with years of precedent, but Trump said that the US remained committed to a two-state solution, and insisted that he was not dictating how much of Jerusalem should constitute Israel’s capital – leaving open the possibility that East Jerusalem would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.”
The UN and almost every country in the world currently refuse to accept that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, with most major embassies functioning in the sea-side business capital, Tel Aviv. The international consensus is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, just like the West Bank.
While Israel considers Jerusalem its ‘eternal, undivided capital’, the Palestinians regard the east of the city – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War – to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.
The debate about the embassy’s location goes back to 1995, when the US Congress approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which requires that the American embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Since then, successive US presidents – both Democratic and Republican – have exercised a waiver delaying its implementation every six months on national security grounds, and official US policy does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Guardian, BBC, Christian Post and Christian Today contributed to this report.
By Paul W. Dennnis