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Trump declares Jerusalem Israel capital

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Washington DC (New York Times) – President Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City.

“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said Mr. Trump, speaking from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, saying that past approaches to the conflict, like delaying that recognition, had not moved the peace process forward.

Mr. Trump’s remarks will be the most closely scrutinized of his presidency on the Middle East, where he has vowed to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians but has yet to find a breakthrough to end the conflict.

The president’s recognition of Jerusalem isolates the United States on one of the world’s most sensitive diplomatic issues. It has drawn a storm of criticism from Arab and European leaders, which swelled on Tuesday night after the White House confirmed Mr. Trump’s plans.

Pope Francis and the Chinese foreign ministry joined the chorus of voices warning that the move could unleash a wave of violence across the region. At a meeting in Brussels, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson was sternly reproached by European allies.

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Standing next to Mr. Tillerson, the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, made clear that Europe saw the president’s announcement as a threat to peace in the Middle East.

“We believe that any action that would undermine these efforts must absolutely be avoided,” she said. “A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as a future capital of both states.”

Just hours before Mr. Trump was expected to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Mr. Tillerson said that peace in the Middle East was still possible.

Mr. Tillerson, during a news conference at NATO headquarters in the heart of Europe, said that he did not want to pre-empt the president’s official announcement, but expressed reassurances about the expected consequences of the decision.

“The president’s very committed to the Middle East peace process,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Tillerson has been largely shut out of the usual back-and-forth between Israelis and Palestinians that many secretaries of state spent much of their tenures conducting. Instead, Mr. Trump entrusted that task to his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

At least one former Obama administration official also weighed in with sharp criticism. John O. Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s action was “reckless” and would “damage U.S. interests in the Middle East for years to come and will make the region more volatile.”

Administration officials said they expected the blowback from the Palestinians and others, but they asserted that the move would accelerate, not hinder, the peace process.

Mr. Trump promised to move the embassy during the 2016 presidential campaign, a position that appealed to evangelical voters and pro-Israel American Jews, including Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate. By delivering on that promise, Mr. Trump’s aides said, he was enhancing his credibility as a peacemaker.

The announcement, officials said, was recognition of current and historic reality. West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, and recognizing it as such would remove ambiguity from the American position, they said.

The process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem will take several years, they noted. As a result, the president plans to sign a national security waiver that allows the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months.

Jerusalem is one of the world’s most fiercely contested

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