WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump forged ahead Tuesday with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests.
Trump also told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.
Trump is to publicly address the question of Jerusalem on Wednesday.
U.S. officials familiar with his planning said he would declare Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.
The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America's consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.
Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.
Trump is likely to do the same, U.S. officials said, though less quietly. That's why he plans to couple the waiver with the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, according to the officials who weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. Key national security advisers including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.
The concerns are real: Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could be viewed as America discarding its longstanding neutrality and siding with Israel at a time that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a "deal of the century" that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem's status as the "capital of Israel." The president isn't planning to use the phrase "undivided capital," according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would imply Israel's sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek for their own future capital.
Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it's also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.
Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president's expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.
Any U.S. declaration on Jerusalem's status, ahead of a peace deal, "would harm peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region," Saudi Arabia's King Salman told Trump Tuesday, according to a Saudi readout of their telephone conversation. Declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the king said, "would constitute a flagrant provocation to all Muslims, all over the world."