JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Israel hailed U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital on Wednesday, but the Palestinians condemned the move and said it diminished Washington’s role as a peace mediator.
In a landmark speech in Washington, Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy in defiance of warnings from around the world that the gesture risked creating further unrest in the Middle East.
Past U.S. presidents have insisted that the status of Jerusalem - home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions - must be decided in negotiations between the two sides.
Palestinian factions called a general strike on Thursday throughout the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and for rallies to be held at midday (1000 GMT) in protest at Trump’s move, raising the chances of violent clashes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a pre-recorded video message that Trump’s decision had made for a “historic day” and was “an important step toward peace”.
He added that any peace deal with the Palestinians would have to include Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and he urged other countries to follow the U.S. lead by also moving their embassies to the city.
He said there would be no change to access to Jerusalem’s holy sites. “Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.”
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump’s move was “tantamount to the United States abdicating its role as a peace mediator” and declared Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of the State of Palestine”.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed it, declaring the whole of the city as its capital, a move not recognized internationally.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state which they want to establish in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“With this announcement, the American administration has chosen to violate all international and bilateral agreements and resolutions and it has chosen to violate international consensus,” Abbas said.
The move, he said, would serve “the extremist groups which try to turn the conflict in our region into a religious war that will drag the region ... into international conflicts and endless wars.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014. Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is leading Trump’s efforts to restart them but those efforts have shown little progress. Israel’s West Bank settlement building has been one of the main obstacles.
Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, said Trump’s move was “flagrant aggression against the Palestinian people” and urged Arabs and Muslims to “undermine the U.S.’s interests in the region” and to “shun Israel.”
Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Miriam Berger in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens and James Dalgleish