JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy here from Tel Aviv sent ripples across the local political scene on Wednesday, with many legislators voicing strong support for Trump’s decision and others warning that any hopes for a two-state solution would immediately vanish.
Palestinian leaders have called for “three days of rage” to protest Trump’s decision. But there was little evidence of turmoil in Jerusalem late Wednesday evening as steady rain fell on the city. A projection image of the Israeli and American flags was seen displayed on the walls of the Old City.
Trump made the announcement at the White House on Wednesday, emphasizing he was delivering on a campaign promise despite warnings from some world leaders and members of Congress that the move could lead to unrest and violence in the region, and end any possibility of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious — that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do, it’s something that has to be done.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s decision, calling it “an important step towards peace.”
Avi Gabay, the current leader of the Israel Labor Party, told the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference Wednesday that he was supportive of Trump’s decision, arguing that it could bring renewed energy to the diplomatic process, including the restart of peace talks. Gabay is supportive of a two-state solution.
“Jerusalem should be united under our sovereignty and that unites us all. I hope that along with recognition the American administration will take steps in the Middle East to restart the peace process,” Gabay said. “It can happen, we should see it as something that can inspire negotiations.”
In the eyes of Palestinian leaders and their allies, hope for a peace deal seemed to dim as soon as Trump made his announcement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced Trump’s decision in a televised address, saying the U.S. had now lost any credibility for mediating peace, calling Trump’s decision “a declaration of withdrawing from the role.”
Israel has long regarded Jerusalem, home to government offices and its seat of power, as the capital; Palestinians have claimed East Jerusalem as theirs. Jerusalem is home to some of the holiest sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians, making it one of the most hotly contested places in the world.
Jamal Zahalka, who serves as a member of the Knesset representing the Balad party — a Israeli Arab political group which opposes the concept of Israel as a solely Jewish state – said Trump’s decision was a serious offense.
“Trump is playing with fire, he does not care about the continued bloodshed, and is prepared to do anything to appease the extreme right in Israel,” Zahalka said in a statement. “His statement is a hostile step against the Palestinians and a sign of contempt to the Arab world. Those who celebrate Trump’s declaration here in Israel, are the ones who will do everything to prevent order and peace, and to advance the settlements as well as supporting the occupation, while trying to strangle the just national aspirations of the Palestinian people. Netanyahu and Trump must know that East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine.”
Retired Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who supports the Trump decision, said there was widespread support among local legislators, with only a fraction of them voicing concern that the decision should have been attached to an agreement for a two-state solution. Ettinger served in the Israeli embassy in Washington and advised members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset.
“In Israel there is a diversity of opinions, within the parties, among the parties,” Ettinger said. “I would say that most Jewish legislators support it. Some however, support it while expressing their own support for two-state solution. Others like myself do not think the two-state solution is viable for this region, for Israel, for the U.S. But there is no doubt the vast majority here in Israel supports it.”
“Conventional wisdom has been that the American embassy should remain in Tel Aviv, Donald Trump is going to challenge that conventional so- called wisdom,” Ettinger added.
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