Calling it “a step to advance the peace process” with Palestinians, President Donald Trump has officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – an announcement that is expected to spark unrest across the Middle East.  

Mr Trump also instructed the State Department to begin the years-long process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

White House officials have sought to play down the significance of the moves, which have sparked a chorus of disapproval from leaders around the globe. 

The officials have said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is an acknowledgement of “historical and current reality” rather than a political statement. They note that almost all of Israel’s government agencies and parliament are in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the US and other countries maintain embassies.

By changing Jerusalem’s diplomatic status and the US’s embassy location, Mr Trump is breaking with decades of US foreign policy. 

While Congress in 1995 adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy in Israel to the holy city, every president since then – including Mr Trump – has signed waivers delaying that move. Each waiver postpones the relocation for six months. 

In his speech at the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence standing behind him, Mr Trump stressed that the past actions of predecessors regarding Jerusalem had brought Israel and the Palestinians no closer to a lasting peace agreement. 

He said there was nothing indicating that “repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result”. 

Mr Trump reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to forging a lasting peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. 

The US “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides”, Mr Trump said. 

When it opens – expected to be many years from now – the US embassy would be the only country’s embassy in Jerusalem. All other nations’ embassies are located in Tel Aviv, the commercial capital of Israel. 

More to follow…

Independent

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