Trump to plunge Middle East into ‘fire with no end’ with Jerusalem speech

Trump to plunge Middle East into 'fire with no end' with Jerusalem speechThe pope issued an unusually heartfelt plea to the US president to respect the status quo on the city, and to conform with UN resolutions. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Trump to plunge Middle East into ‘fire with no end’ with Jerusalem speech

A cacophony of angry and despairing voices across the Middle East and the world has urged Donald Trump not to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at a planned speech on Wednesday, warning him that any such announcement would destroy the peace process, strengthen the extremists and weaken the US’s standing in the world.

The pope issued an unusually heartfelt plea to the president to respect the status quo on the city, and to conform with UN resolutions. He told thousands of people at his general audience: “I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days.”

Pope Francis said he hoped “wisdom and prudence prevail, in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to a global panorama that is already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts”.

The spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the US was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight”. He added that the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation would meet in Istanbul on 13 December in a special session to co-ordinate a response.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, disclosed he had told the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, that Washington was making a grave mistake, and the whole world was against the decision. Turkey has suggested it might cut diplomatic ties with Israel if the plan goes ahead.

British prime minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that she would call Trump about his proposed announcement.

“The status of Jerusalem should be determined as a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and Jerusalem should be a shared capital,” she said.

Both Germany and France, fierce critics of the decision, updated travel advice to their citizens, warning of possible clashes in Israel and the occupied territories.

Trump is expected to declare formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel later on Wednesday, breaking with years of precedent and potentially leading to unpredictable consequences for the Middle East.

Palestinian women protest in Gaza City on Wednesday ahead of Donald Trump’s expected declaration recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
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 Palestinian women protest in Gaza City on Wednesday ahead of Donald Trump’s expected declaration recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Photograph: APAImages/REX/Shutterstock

Trump’s planned announcement was welcomed by Jewish groups, including the British board of deputies, which described the outcry as bizarre. The Israeli government remained silent, awaiting details of the announcement.

The response across the wider Middle East ranging from Syria to Yemen has been universally hostile, including from the US’s steadfast ally Saudi Arabia, which believes the US move damages Riyadh’s continuing efforts to negotiate a peace deal, starting with a unification of the Palestinian leadership.

At the request of Jordan and the Palestinians, an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers will be held on Saturday. The Arab League warned any recognition of Jerusalem would be a blatant attack on the Arab nation.

Q&A

Why would moving the US embassy to Jerusalem be so contentious?

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday that US plans to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a move made “out of despair and debility” because “their hands are tied and they can’t achieve their goals”.

Khamenei, who is stridently anti-Israel, told government officials: “Victory belongs to Islamic Ummah. Palestine will be free, the Palestinian nation will achieve victory.”

The ayatollah has previously said that Israel “will not see the next 25 years”.

The UN special envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, urged caution, saying: “The future of Jerusalem is something that needs to be negotiated with Israel, with the Palestinians, sitting side by side directly in negotiations.”

The UK’s response was at the milder end of the spectrum. Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said he was concerned by the imminent announcement, but said it was important to wait for the details of the president’s statement.

Before meeting Tillerson, Johnson said the decision “makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward. That should happen as a matter of priority.”

A Kremlin spokesman said the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had expressed his concern about the announcement, but was also waiting to hear Trump’s speech.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told a regular news briefing that the status of Jerusalem was a complicated and sensitive issue and China was concerned the US decision “could sharpen regional conflict”.

“All parties should do more for the peace and tranquillity of the region, behave cautiously, and avoid impacting the foundation for resolving the long-standing Palestine issue and initiating new hostility in the region,” Geng said.

In London, the Jewish Board of Deputies president, Jonathan Arkush, welcomed Trump’s decision, saying it was bizarre that it should be seen as remarkable.

“Jerusalem has been the spiritual centre of Jewish life for 3,000 years, since the time of King David,” he said. “Given that Jerusalem is in fact historically, presently and legally Israel’s capital, the decision by many countries not to formally recognise this has been an act of post-truth petulance.”

Nasser Qudwa, a senior Palestinian official, said unilaterally recognising Jerusalem as the capital would be in breach of international law, and that the Palestinians would seek to challenge the move at the UN security council.

The Palestinian envoy to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, told the BBC: “If [Trump] says what he is intending to say about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, it means a kiss of death to the two-state solution.

“He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel.”_ The Guardian

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