President Donald Trump on Wednesday finally recognized the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Trump called for calm and tolerance after the decision.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said from the White House.
“It’s the right thing to do.”
The declaration calls into question seven decades of deliberate diplomatic ambiguity about the final status of a holy city vociferously claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump also kicked off the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, making good on a campaign promise dear to evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish voters — as well as donors.
He said his decision marked the start of a “new approach” to solving the thorny conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump’s predecessors — from Bill Clinton to George Bush — made similar promises on the campaign trail but quickly reneged upon taking office, and the burden of war and peace.
“Many presidents have said they want to do something and they didn’t do it,” Trump said in the hours leading up to his historic address.
“Whether it’s courage or they changed their mind, I can’t tell you,” he said. “I think it’s long overdue,” he added.
Just hours before Mr. Trump made his announcement, Mr. Tillerson said that peace in the Middle East was still possible.
Mr. Tillerson, during a news conference at NATO headquarters in the heart of Europe, expressed reassurances about the expected consequences of the decision.
“The president’s very committed to the Middle East peace process,” Mr. Tillerson said.
Mr. Tillerson has been largely shut out of the usual back-and-forth between Israelis and Palestinians that many secretaries of state spent much of their tenures conducting. Instead, Mr. Trump entrusted that task to his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
At least one former Obama administration official also weighed in with sharp criticism. John O. Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s action was “reckless” and would “damage U.S. interests in the Middle East for years to come and will make the region more volatile.”
Mr. Trump’s promise to move the embassy appealed to evangelical voters and pro-Israel American Jews, including Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate. By delivering on that promise, Mr. Trump’s aides said, he was enhancing his credibility as a peacemaker.
The announcement, officials said, was recognition of current and historic reality. West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, and recognizing it as such would remove ambiguity from the American position, they said.
Jerusalem is one of the world’s most fiercely contested swaths of real estate, with each side disputing the other’s claims. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and most of the world considers it occupied territory. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third-holiest mosque in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism, making the city’s status a sensitive issue for Muslims and Jews alike. Jerusalem is also sacred ground to Christians.