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israel sovereignity

The Arab world is reacting to an expected announcement by President Donald Trump that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

According to recent reports, President Trump will make the statement this week but will further delay acting on a campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The head of the Arab League, Jordan and the Palestinian president have warned of the consequences of a declaration.

Jerusalem’s fate is one of the thorniest issues between Israel and the Arabs.

A deadline for President Trump to sign a waiver delaying the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem expires on December 4.

Every president, including Donald Trump, has signed the waiver every six months since US Congress passed an act in 1995 calling for the embassy to be moved.

Donald Trump repeatedly pledged during his election campaign to move the embassy, and while he has said it was still his intention, he has not yet done so.

There are signs however the president will make a statement on December 6 announcing Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel while holding off moving the embassy.

Image source Wikimedia

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The status of the city goes to the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, who are backed by the rest of the Arab and wider Islamic world.

Jerusalem is home to key religious sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, especially in East Jerusalem.

Israel occupied the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords its final status is meant to discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized internationally, and all countries, including Israel’s closest ally the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial capital.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

If the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it will put it out-of-step with the rest of the international community and reinforce Israel’s position that settlements in the east are valid Israeli communities.

The move would also raise a question over how the US will treat resolutions dealing with East Jerusalem at the UN. The US has a power of veto and could use this to block future motions critical of Israeli policy in the east.

There is growing anger towards Washington among its allies in the Middle East.

Jordan, the custodian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, has warned of “grave consequences” if President Trump goes ahead, and has called for an emergency meeting of key regional and Islamic blocs the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to discuss the issue.

Arab League chief Abul Gheit warned such a move would “nourish fanaticism and violence”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has contacted world leaders urging them to intervene, saying “such a US decision would destroy the peace process and drag the region into further instability”.

The US has brokered decades of on-off peace talks, and the Trump administration is formulating fresh peace proposals – but recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would compromise Washington’s neutrality in the eyes of the Palestinians.

It remains unclear though whether President Trump will recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The White House has neither confirmed nor denied the president’s intention, and in a rare public speech on December 3 his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner refused to be drawn on the issue.