U.S. President Donald Trump said the unsayable on Wednesday — that Yerushalayim is the capital of Israel — and the reactions were the expected ones, of rage among the Palestinians and Muslims, appreciation not unmixed with foreboding among Israelis.
Because Trump’s statement had been previewed earlier in the day by the White House, the contents were already known beforehand, and so news media were confident in their predictions of what he would say and governments were ready with their reactions, which streamed in immediately after the declaration was made.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed it as an “historic day.”
While noting that Yerushalayim has been “the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” he said that “we’re profoundly grateful for the President for his courageous and just decision to recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the U.S. embassy here. This decision reflects the President’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”
Mindful of the Palestinian and Arab anger and threats of violence, Netanyahu added:
“I also want to make clear: there will be no change whatsoever to the status quo at the holy sites…Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.”
The reaction from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was equally swift and equally predictable. He said in a pre-recorded broadcast that Yerushalayim was the “eternal capital of the state of Palestine.”
He condemned Trump’s decision to move the embassy as “tantamount to the United States abdicating its role as a peace mediator,” and predicted that it “will lead to wars without end.”
On Wednesday night, Abbas ordered the Palestinian team in Washington to return home, saying the United States has “withdrawn from its role in the peace process.”
First official reaction from Turkey was delivered by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu:
“We condemn the irresponsible statement of the U.S. Administration declaring that it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and it will be moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” he said. “This decision is against international law and relevant U.N. Resolutions.”
Prior to the speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Israel again, if Trump were to go ahead with the declaration. However, there was no comment to that effect from Ankara immediately after the speech.
Soon after, hundreds of people were reportedly staging protest demonstrations near U.S. diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.
Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addressed a press conference shortly after the president spoke, insisting on a divided Yerushalayim:
“From day one as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides.
“I understand the deep attachment that Jerusalem holds in the hearts of so many people. It has been so for centuries and it will always be.
“In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: There is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B.
“It is only by realizing the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, and all final status issues resolved permanently through negotiations, that the legitimate aspirations of both peoples will be achieved,” Guterres said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was mildly critical: “We disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize it as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement,” the spokesman said. “We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom rejected Trump’s declaration, saying that it’s “vital to protect Jerusalem’s special status as established by the U.N. and respect UNSC resolutions.”
French President Emmanuel Macron characterized the president’s decision as “regrettable,” calling for efforts to “avoid violence at all costs.”
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco were likewise glum in their comments.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman reportedly discussed the “most prominent developments” in the region in a telephone call from Erdogan, but the Saudi state news agency gave no details.
Peace Now criticized Trump’s declaration as “an unilateral move that harms the prospects for peace…intensified the international controversy and condemnation around Jerusalem, and it is doubtful whether he will be able to serve as an honest mediator between the sides.”
In what was in effect a rejoinder to that, however, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said in his remarks on Wednesday night that, “Yerushalayim is not, and never will be, an obstacle to peace for those who want peace. As it is written, ‘Pray for the peace of Yerushalayim, may all that love her prosper, may there be peace in her quarters and palaces.’”
The U.S. Embassy (still in Tel Aviv, at last report) doubled up on its warning to citizens in Israel:
“The recent announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may spark protests, some of which have the potential to become violent. The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the need for caution and awareness of personal security.
“Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news for updates. Maintain a high-level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities. Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests or demonstrations.
“In view of this announcement and the potential for protests, U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho.”
In Jordan, the U.S. Embassy announced suspension of service and limiting the movements of diplomats and their families for safety considerations.
Bracing for the worst, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. has “implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions.”