JERUSALEM – Fresh anger poured in from across the Muslim world Wednesday as President Donald Trump said that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that Arab and European leaders have warned could spark violence and destroy any hopes of reviving the Mideast peace process.
Israel responded with satisfaction to the president’s announcement, in which Trump also said he was setting in motion the process of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv. In a show of appreciation, the Jerusalem municipality projected the American and Israeli flags onto the walls of the Old City, home to important Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
Yet even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the president’s declaration as “courageous and just,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas slammed the “destruction of all the efforts to achieve peace.”
Ahead of the announcement, U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe had urged Trump to refrain from taking steps they fear could ignite unrest across the region.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive and inflammatory issues fueling the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims the city in entirety as its capital; Palestinians want the eastern sector to be the seat of government for a future state.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking from New York moments after Trump finished his address, said Jerusalem’s status was an issue to be decided in negotiations.
“In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear there is no alternative to the two-state solution,” he said, referring to a broad international consensus supporting side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed that Jerusalem’s status quo would be preserved to avoid adding new tension to a world “already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
“Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace,” Francis said.
Leaders from Britain, France, Germany and Italy joined in the chorus of opprobrium for Trump’s decision. France’s President Emmanuel Macron called the U.S. move “regrettable.” British Prime Minister Theresa May said she intended to express her concerns to Trump.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, said the U.S. stance would provide a boost for terrorist groups. The leaders plan to convene extraordinary meetings of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League in the coming days to discuss the region’s response to the U.S. moves.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League’s secretary-general, said he was surprised that the U.S. administration would “get involved in an unjustified provocation of the feelings of 360 million Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims to please Israel.”
The status of Israel is one of the few issues that unites leaders in a part of the world riven by war and sectarian divides. Archrivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are engaged in deadly proxy conflicts in Yemen and Syria, have offered some of the harshest commentary about Trump’s plan in recent days.
The Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a gathering of Iranian officials Wednesday that “without a doubt, the Islamic world will resist this conspiracy … and beloved Palestine will finally be freed,” the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.
Yet officials could not pass up the opportunity to take digs at their rivals.
“If half the funds spent by some rulers in the region to encourage terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and incitement against neighbors was spent on liberating Palestine, we wouldn’t be facing today this American egotism,” Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a tweet.
Palestinians, already discouraged over what they describe as a consistently pro-Israel stance by the U.S., said Trump’s decision essentially killed any remaining peace hopes. Leaders called for three “days of rage” culminating after Friday prayers.
Although protests in the West Bank were muted Wednesday, hundreds took to the streets in the Gaza Strip, chanting angry slogans.
“Trump has just declared the end of the two-state solution,” said Tahrir Aloumor, 36. “Shame on you, Trump.”
As darkness fell, the walled Old City was largely quiet.
A visiting Palestinian American, Jamal Abusneineh, 53, called Trump’s move shortsighted. “It feels surreal to be back in Jerusalem during this time,” he said. “Look at the stones, and you can feel the history and the hands that built them.”