President Donald Trump on Wednesday will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the ancient city, senior U.S. officials said.
The decision would upend decades of U.S. policy and risks fueling violence in the Middle East.
Facing an outcry of opposition from Arab capitals, Trump, in a landmark speech, will announce he has ordered the State Department to begin developing a plan to move the embassy from Tel Aviv in what is expected to be a process that takes three to four years, the officials said.
He will not set a timetable for the move.
Trump will sign a national security waiver that authorizes him to delay the embassy relocation for now, since the U.S. diplomats do not yet have a building in Jerusalem to move into, security arrangements or housing for diplomats, the officials said.
Still, Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital would reverse long-standing U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian wants East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.
The officials, who briefed reporters ahead of Trump’s speech at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) on Wednesday, insisted that Trump’s decision, intended to fulfill a key campaign promise.
The officials said it was not meant to pre-judge the outcome of eventual talks on the final status of Jerusalem or other major disputes between the two sides.
Instead, one of the officials contended that Trump’s announcements reflected the “historic reality” of Jerusalem as the center of Jewish faith and the “modern reality” that it is the seat of Israeli government.
Such arguments are not likely to sway the Palestinians and the broader Arab world.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah,Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, all received telephone calls from Trump on Tuesday.
They, however, joined a mounting chorus of voices warning that unilateral U.S. steps on Jerusalem would derail a fledgling U.S.-led peace effort that has stymied previous U.S. administrations and unleash turmoil in the region.
The White House said Trump had also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close U.S. ally and longtime proponent of a U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu was the only leader whose office did not release a statement following the call.
A senior Israeli minister welcomed Trump’s decision while vowing that Israel would be prepared for any outbreak of violence.
Trump appears intent on satisfying the pro-Israel, right-wing base, including evangelical Christians, that helped him win the presidency but was disappointed when he delayed the embassy move in June.
No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, an action not recognized internationally.
But Trump’s decision could also upset the peace effort led by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, in pursuit of what the U.S. president has called the “ultimate deal”.
Still, internal deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense.
Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.