US decision on Jerusalem sparks international backlash, protests
London - US President Donald Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital drew international criticism and sparked protests across the Muslim world.
The move was met with concern and disapproval from US allies worried about its effect on political stability in the Middle East and prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Thousands of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah December 8 after Friday prayers, two days after Trump’s decision was formally announced.
Protesters threw stones at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Thousands of Palestinians rallied outside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, a flashpoint site in the city.
Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers called for a new intifada and a Palestinian was killed during a fight along Israel’s border with Gaza.
Israel’s anti-missile system intercepted a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defence Forces said in a statement. It was the second such incident in two days. A retaliatory Israeli air strike on Gaza killed two Hamas militants.
Thousands of people in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, India and Malaysia took to the streets to protest Trump’s decision. The militant al-Qaeda network urged its followers to target vital US interests.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party said US Vice-President Mike Pence was “not welcome in Palestine.” Rajoub signalled that Abbas would not meet with Pence during the American leader’s scheduled visit this month.
Abbas said Trump had disqualified the United States from its traditional role as peace broker in the Middle East conflict. “With this position, the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process,” Abbas said in a statement.
The Saudi royal court described the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “There is no alternative to the two-state solution.”
Britain described Trump’s move as “unhelpful” and France said the United States had sidelined itself in the Middle East.
“I hear some, including [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson, say things will happen in time and the hour is for negotiations. Until now (the United States) could have had a mediation role in this conflict but it has excluded itself a little,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio. “The reality is they are alone and isolated on this issue.”
Tillerson said it would be several years before the United States opened an embassy in Jerusalem. He said Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital “did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem,” adding that the city’s borders would be left to Israelis and Palestinians.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who represents the bloc in the Middle East Quartet, pledged to reinvigorate diplomacy with Russia, the United States, Jordan and others to ensure Palestinians have a capital in Jerusalem, too.
EU foreign ministers look to present a unified front before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Brussels on December 11. A senior French diplomat said it was crucial that EU governments had a clear message for the Israeli leader.
“What we are going to try and do is convince our European partners when we meet Netanyahu… to tell him that what is happening with the United States is a serious issue for him, Israel and any peace prospect,” the diplomat told Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is to visit Turkey December 11 to discuss developments on Jerusalem with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish presidential sources said. Erdogan and Putin have already spoken by telephone and agreed the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would have a negative effect on the region’s peace and stability.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Trump’s announcement “runs counter to common sense.” Some analysts questioned how a fair peace process could be possible by granting such a major Israeli demand while seeming to require nothing in return.
Israel has long claimed all of Jerusalem as its capital while the Palestinians see the eastern sector of the city as the seat of their future country.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington remains committed to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. She said that Trump, in his reversal of two decades of US foreign policy, was recognising reality since the Israeli government and Knesset are in Jerusalem.
“I understand the concerns that members have in calling this session,” Haley said at an emergency meeting December 8 of the UN Security Council. “Change is hard.”