President Donald Trump set off protests throughout the Middle East on Wednesday as he announced that America formally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
He changed decades of U.S. policy in a brief afternoon speech and cast the move as a bid to preserve, not derail, aspirations for regional peace.
Appearing in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room against an elaborate backdrop of Christmas decorations, he also said the United States embassy in Israel would, over time, be moved there from Tel Aviv.Israel is the only country where the United States has an embassy in a city that the host nation does not consider its capital.
But his speech was greeted by demonstrations and a threat from Hamas, who called Thursday and Friday ‘days of rage’ that he had ‘opened the gates of hell’.
In Gaza thousands flooded the streets and burned U.S. flags. Palestinian secular and Islamist factions called a general strike on Thursday after tens of thousands took to the streets on Wednesday night.
Israeli security forces braced for possible violence for days to come and the U.S. embassy in Jordan was effectively locked down.World leaders including the Pope spoke out against the measure, saying that it jeopardized the peace process. But Trump was unrepentant that he was doing the ‘right thing’.
‘I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ Trump said. ‘While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today I am delivering.’
‘When I came into office I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking,’ he said, leaning heavily on a mid-1990s federal law that demanded the embassy’s relocation.
‘We have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital – at all,’ Trump added. ‘But today we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.’
‘It is also the right thing to do. It is something that has to be done.’