President Trump on Wednesday justified his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by saying the old status quo wasn't getting the Middle East any closer to peace, even as many others warned that his move will increase the risk of violence.
"After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians," Trump said at the White House, referring to waivers from him and past presidents that have kept the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
"It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result," Trump said. "Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."
"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," the president added.
Trump said the policy shift did not diminish his administration's commitment to facilitating a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. officials would even support a two-state solution if both sides agreed to such a framework, Trump noted.
Trump also noted the government of Israel has operated out of Jerusalem for years, and said his recognition of it as the Israeli capital is a recognition of reality, and said it could be used to advance peace.
"While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering. I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Trump said. "This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process."
The president said he had initiated steps to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, although he signed a waiver on Wednesday that will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for at least another six months. The process could take years, but Trump said it has started.
"I am also directing the State Department to begin preparations to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Trump said. "This will immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners so that the new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace."
Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday fulfilled a campaign promise and marked a significant moment in U.S.-Israeli relations.
White House aides have said Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is meant to acknowledge the reality that the country's government is concentrated there and that the city has truly become the political center of Israel. However, administration officials tempered expectations this week by telling reporters the process of moving America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could take years and could possibly stretch into Trump's second term, should he win one.
In the meantime, administration officials said, Trump will continue to sign waivers every six months that will keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act requires the State Department to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or face a funding cut, although the law includes a provision that allows the president to delay the move by signing a waiver. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama ,and Trump have signed such waivers, maintaining the status quo that has existed since the American embassy in Tel Aviv opened its doors in 1966.
Trump spoke with Middle Eastern leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on Tuesday as he prepared to unveil the policy change toward Jerusalem.
Arab countries and European allies have urged Trump not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel out of fear that doing so could spark unrest and sabotage peace talks. Even Pope Francis joined in the chorus of opposition to the move on Wednesday, noting that the city is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.
But administration officials have expressed confidence that the peace talks brokered by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, will survive any backlash over Trump's decision. White House aides said Tuesday that Kushner has notched private victories in the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis that Trump tasked him to oversee.
The State Department warned American embassies around the world last week to brace for demonstrations that could turn violent.
Critics have said the recognition of Jerusalem could destabilize a region already prone to volatility while failing to advance any clear U.S. interests. Proponents of the move have said Trump's formal recognition simply acknowledges a political reality that has existed for years while leaving room for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate the specifics of how or whether the city should remain divided.