Palestinian officials have ratcheted up their threats of violence, calling for “three days of rage” to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated intention to relocate the American embassy to Yerushalayim in phone calls to regional leaders on Tuesday.
The president was scheduled to make his much-anticipated statement on the Mideast about midday Wednesday, and Palestinian protests were called for Wednesday through Friday. However, no one can as of yet say what exactly the president will do to fulfill his “intention” to move the embassy, whether he will go ahead with it regardless of Arab furor, or postpone it once again, with a face-saving declaration about a future action.
Sources in Washington were quoted by The Times of Israel as saying that the text of the president’s address was still being thrashed out, but while it was likely he would refer to Yerushalayim as the “capital of Israel,” he would refrain from such language as “undivided capital,” a more loaded phrase implying Israeli sovereignty over East Yerushalayim.
In the midst of the uncertainty, Fatah and Hamas were poised to send their people into the streets: “We call on all our people in Israel and around the world to gather in city centers and Israeli embassies and consulates, with the aim of bringing about general popular anger.”
Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that security forces are ready for the Arab anger. “We are prepared for all possibilities,” Netanyahu said. “The security forces know very well what to do, and how to do it.”
Meanwhile, an intense round of telephonic diplomacy was continuing.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appealed personally on Tuesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis, French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to intervene to prevent the embassy move.
Abbas stressed the need for “everyone to protect Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites,” the official PA news agency Wafa said.
Subsequently, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it is “deeply concerned” about the “deteriorating” situation in the Mideast. Without any direct mention of the proposal to move the U.S. embassy or recognize a united Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel, Russia made clear its opposition to any such moves:
“We reaffirm our commitment to the U.N.-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
In light of the explosive situation, on Tuesday evening the U.S. State Department issued a notice to citizens in the area:
“With widespread calls for demonstrations beginning December 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho. Official travel by U.S. government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures. United States citizens should avoid areas where crowds have gathered and where there is increased police and/or military presence.”
Not everyone in Washington was nervous about what President Trump might say on Wednesday. In an interview with Politico, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer downplayed the destabilizing potential of a pronouncement on Yerushalayim.
“On the contrary; I think it will actually lay a cornerstone for peace, because what it says is that under any peace agreement in the future, Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. That’s clear. If somebody could show me any kind of peace plan that doesn’t have Jerusalem as capital of Israel, I’d like to see it. Every single peace plan that’s ever been put down has Jerusalem as a capital of Israel.
“I think the message that it will send to the Palestinians is, ‘Hey, wake up. Understand that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. You have to deal with that reality.’”