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Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital, smashing US policy

Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper, Associated Press | 12/6/2017, 5:49 p.m.
President Donald Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem Wednesday, declaring the sorely divided holy city as Israel's ...
Palestinian burn a poster of the U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest in Bethlehem, West Bank, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Defying dire, worldwide warnings, President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke with decades of U.S. and international policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

There was little in Trump's statement to encourage the Palestinians. Although he recited the longstanding U.S. position that Jerusalem's borders must still be worked out through negotiation, he made no recognition of the Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem.

For the first time, Trump did appear to endorse the concept of an independent Palestine existing alongside Israel. Yet even that idea appeared conditional, as he said he'd promote the "two-state solution" if both sides agreed. Netanyahu's government is dominated by hardliners who oppose Palestinian independence.

Trump made no reference to signing a waiver that officially delays any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but multiple officials confirmed he signed the waiver Wednesday. It means there will be no embassy move for at least another six months. Establishing a Jerusalem embassy was a major campaign promise of Trump's and one that officials said he focused on in discussions with top advisers in recent weeks.

On Wednesday he focused on his directive to the State Department to begin a process of moving the embassy as required by U.S. law, however many years that might take. After his speech, he signed a proclamation to that effect.

In Germany, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said work will begin immediately to identify a site.

A non-governmental expert on the Middle East who consults regularly with the White House said the Trump administration had opted against an earlier plan of converting the existing U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to an embassy. Instead, it's looking to construct an entirely new facility, said the individual, who wasn't authorized to disclose private conversations with U.S. officials and requested anonymity.

In making his decision, Trump overruled more cautious counsel from Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who voiced concern about endangering U.S. diplomats and troops in Muslim countries, according to officials briefed on internal administration deliberations. Those officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement — but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation," Trump said. He said he intends "to do everything in my power to help forge" a peace agreement. -- (AP)