Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s capital city as “an important step towards peace” and a gift to the Jewish people.
“President Trump, thank you for today's historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital,” Netanyahu said. “The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful.”
Trump made the announcement Wednesday, the first president to take that step since Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the policy change. Successive administrations invoked a waiver to delay moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, in order to avoid hurting potential talks between Israelis and Palestinians and antagonizing Arab allies.
Netanyahu extended an olive branch to Arab neighbors, emphasizing that Trump’s decision would not result in Israel moving to exclude religious minorities from holy sites throughout the ancient city.
“There will be no change whatsoever to the status quo at the holy sites,” Netanyahu said in the video released by his office. “Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews and Christians and Muslims alike.”
Still, the policy change has drawn some heavy criticism in the region, most notably from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is a member of NATO, but Erdogan’s relationship with western leaders has frayed after he blamed the United States for a failed coup attempt in 2016 and then moved quickly to crack down on dissidents.
“Any such false step may cause indignation in the Islamic world, dynamiting the ground for peace and igniting new tensions and clashes,” Erdogan said of Trump's decision Wednesday at a joint press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country oversees the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The decision was also criticized domestically by a liberal group that subs itself the Jewish Resistance to Trump. “[T]his is not a new approach — it is an act of incitement from the Trump administration against Palestinians and a recipe for disaster,” the group, known as IfNotNow, said Wednesday. “This decision does not embolden ‘young voices calling for a bright and better future,’ as Trump promised, but rather endorses the movement of Jewish extremists that displace more and more Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem every day.”
Trump’s allies counter that the recognition could contribute to an ultimate peace deal by demonstrating to Palestinians that they will never oust the Israelis from Jerusalem entirely. “I frankly kind of think it makes some kind of peace agreement more likely because it counters the maximalist case that too many radical Palestinian leaders have pushed for decade,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
Netanyahu made a similar argument. “The president’s decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel,” he said.