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Trump set to endorse Jerusalem as capital

No embassy move yet; violence feared

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Photographs by AP/ODED BALILTY

People walk through Jerusalem’s Old City area Tuesday. President Donald Trump will publicly address his plan on Jerusalem today after telling the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump forged ahead Tuesday with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk violent protests.

Trump also told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. U.S. officials familiar with Trump's planning confirmed Tuesday that he would instruct the State Department to begin the multiyear process to do so.

Still, it remains unclear when he will take that step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds every six months for more than two decades. Trump will sign the waiver, the officials said, until preparations for the embassy move are complete.

Trump is to publicly address the question of Jerusalem today. U.S. officials said that at the same time Trump issues the waiver, he will declare Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a rhetorical volley that could have dangerous consequences.

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While Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital, the Palestinians desire to place the capital of their future state in East Jerusalem. Only two other countries recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- Costa Rica and El Salvador -- although both countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. The United States and the United Nations have said the city's status must be settled in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America's consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. Embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.

Numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, will need to be finalized first, the U.S. officials said. Because of those preparations, the embassy is not likely to move for at least three or four years, presuming there is no future change in U.S. policy, they said.

Key national security advisers including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could be viewed as America discarding its long-standing neutrality and siding with Israel at a time that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a "deal of the century" that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem's status as the "capital of Israel." The president isn't planning to use the phrase "undivided capital," according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would imply Israel's sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it's also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.

WARNINGS OF ALLIES

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president's expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

The Jerusalem declaration notwithstanding, one official said Trump would insist that issues of sovereignty and borders must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. The official said Trump would call for Jordan to maintain its role as the legal guardian of Jerusalem's Muslim holy places and reflect Israeli and Palestinian wishes for a two-state peace solution.

But any U.S. declaration on Jerusalem's status ahead of a peace deal "would harm [the] peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region," Saudi Arabia's King Salman told Trump on Tuesday, according to a Saudi readout of their telephone conversation. Declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the king said, "would constitute a flagrant provocation to all Muslims, all over the world."

In his calls to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, Trump delivered what appeared to be identical messages of intent. Both leaders warned Trump that moving the embassy would threaten Mideast peace efforts and security and stability in the Middle East and the world, according to statements from their offices. The statements didn't speak to Trump's plans for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Abbas warned Trump that he was "playing into the hands of extremism," but Trump "just went on saying he had to do it," said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Abbas who said Abbas had personally briefed him on the call.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the U.S. to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, warning of "repercussions." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament that such recognition could lead Turkey to respond by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

"Mr. Trump, Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims," Erdogan said Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday that Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations on setting up an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Meeting Tillerson in Brussels, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said actions undermining peace efforts "must be absolutely avoided."

Despite Trump's comments to world leaders, U.S. officials said an embassy announcement wasn't seen as imminent. Instead, they said Trump today would likely sign a waiver pushing off any announcement of moving the embassy to Jerusalem for another six months.

Trump also will give wide latitude to his ambassador in Israel, David Friedman, to make a determination on when a Jerusalem embassy would be appropriate, according to the officials. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.

Majdi Khaldi, Abbas' diplomatic adviser, said Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could end Washington's role as mediator.

"This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace," Khaldi said. He said such recognition would lead the Palestinians to eliminate contacts with the United States.

Changing Jerusalem's status would be "a stab in the back," said Husam Zomlot, the Palestinians' chief delegate to Washington.

Palestinian political factions led by Abbas' Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting today. East Jerusalem, now home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed in a move most of the international community has not recognized.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Lee, Josef Federman, Karin Laub, Josh Lederman, Matthew Pennington, Bradley Klapper, Elaine Ganley, Suzan Fraser and Aya Batrawy of The Associated Press; by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash of The Washington Post; and by Nick Wadhams, Margaret Talev, Michael S. Arnold, Zaid Sabah, Benjamin Harvey, Fadwa Hodali, Jennifer Jacobs and Nafeesa Syeed of Bloomberg News.

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