WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will begin a process to transfer the U.S. Embassy to the ancient city, reversing decades of American policy and defying widespread international criticism.
Trump acknowledged that his announcement, which he followed with a signed proclamation, would generate “disagreement and dissent.” It sparked protests in Palestinian territories and a fresh round of denunciations in foreign capitals worried about a new outbreak of violence in the volatile region.
Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and until now, neither claim was widely recognized. Instead, the international consensus, backed by United Nations resolutions and all U.S. presidents, was to negotiate the city’s status as part of a peace deal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
No other country has established an embassy in Jerusalem, and the White House said it would take several years to select a site and build the facility. But Trump’s 11-minute speech fulfilled a core campaign pledge, one crucial to some conservative Jews and evangelical Christians in his base who believe the U.S. must do more to support Israel.
Trump said he is not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or resolution of contested borders, for any future negotiations.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides,” he said.
Many Israelis were ecstatic, praising Trump for recognizing the reality on the ground. The government of Israel has controlled all of Jerusalem since the 1967 war, and its parliament, Supreme Court and most government departments are based there.
But Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their eventual independent state, were furious and declared “three days of rage,” as were U.S. allies throughout Europe and the Arab world.
Heads and patriarchs of Christian churches in Jerusalem also bemoaned the decision. They represent various branches of the Christian faith, including Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox churches; Episcopalians; Catholics; and Lutherans.
“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land,” the 13 leaders said in a letter to Trump.
Many Middle East experts in Washington also were dismayed by Trump’s plan to change U.S. recognition of a city revered as holy by all three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
“There is no upside to this. What does he gain?” asked Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush. “And for them to say this could jump-start the peace process, it shows they don’t have a clue about peace” in the Middle East.
Scattered violence was reported early Wednesday in Palestinian territories, including the burning of U.S. and Israeli flags in the Gaza Strip. U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the region were put on alert in anticipation of potential protests.
In his announcement Wednesday, Trump said he is instructing the State Department to begin a multiyear process for building an embassy in Jerusalem, asking for money from Congress, choosing a site and hiring architects, engineers and planners.
For now, Trump will sign a six-month waiver to a 1995 law that required the State Department to move the embassy from its current site in Tel Aviv. One senior official said opening a new U.S. Embassy routinely takes three to four years.