Saudis call move ‘irresponsible,’ Qatar warns of ‘serious repercussions’
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sparked Palestinian protests, clashes and a call for a new intifada yesterday as fears grew of fresh bloodshed in the region. Trump’s announcement also prompted an almost universal diplomatic backlash that continued yesterday, with fresh warnings from Turkey, the European Union and Russia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu however lavished praise on Trump, saying his name would now be associated with Jerusalem’s long history and urging other countries to follow his lead. The Israeli military deployed hundreds more troops to the occupied West Bank amid uncertainty over the fallout, while clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces erupted in various areas.
In a speech in Gaza City, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new intifada, or uprising. Protests were held in West Bank cities including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, as well as in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces dispersed several hundred protesters with tear gas at a checkpoint at the entrance to Ramallah, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported dozens wounded from tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire in the West Bank.
Saudi Arabia yesterday slammed US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling the move “unjustified and irresponsible”. Trump ended seven decades of US ambiguity on the status of the disputed city on Wednesday, prompting an almost universal diplomatic backlash and fears of new bloodshed in the Middle East. He also kicked off the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The kingdom expresses great regret over the US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said a Saudi royal court statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The decision goes against the “historical and permanent rights of the Palestinian people”, the royal court said, calling on Trump to reconsider his decision.
“The kingdom has already warned of the serious consequences of such an unjustified and irresponsible move,” the statement said. “The US move represents a significant decline in efforts to push a peace process and is a violation of the historically neutral American position on Jerusalem.”
Saudi King Salman on Tuesday had warned Trump that moving the US embassy for Israel to Jerusalem was a “dangerous step” that could rile Muslims worldwide. Trump’s announcement appears to have cast a pall over relations between Saudi Arabia and the US, which have warmed in the months after his election, with the president choosing the Gulf kingdom for his first overseas visit in May. While the two countries have long been allies, Riyadh viewed Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama as overly friendly with its arch-nemesis Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official diplomatic relations.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s emir has warned President Trump that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would have “serious repercussions”, according to a statement from Doha’s foreign ministry yesterday.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani “warned of the serious repercussions of this step, which would further complicate the situation in the Middle East and negatively affect the security and stability in the region,” read a statement from the ministry, quoting the emir in a phone call with Trump. Three Palestinians were wounded east of the city of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, medical sources and witnesses said. Trump’s defiant move-making good on a pledge made during his 2016 presidential campaign-ends seven decades of US ambiguity on the status of the Holy City, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the decision could take the region “backwards to even darker times.” Russia said it viewed the move with “serious concern” and Saudi Arabia called it “unjustified and irresponsible.”
Palestinian leaders were outraged, with president Mahmud Abbas saying Trump had disqualified the United States from its traditional role as peace broker in the Middle East conflict. Palestinian shops in east Jerusalem, including the Old City, as well as in the West Bank were largely shuttered and schools closed on Thursday after a general strike was called.
“By this decision, America became a very small country, like any small country in the world, like Micronesia,” Salah Zuhikeh, 55, told AFP in Jerusalem’s Old City. “America was a great country for us and everyone.” Trump’s move left many angry US allies struggling to find a diplomatic response.
Through gritted teeth, Britain described the move as “unhelpful” and France called it “regrettable.” Germany said plainly that it “does not support” Trump’s decision. Eight countries including Britain, France and Italy pressed for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in response, which was set for Friday.
Trump also kicked off the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In doing so, he begins to make good on a campaign promise dear to US evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish voters-as well as donors. Trump’s predecessors, from Bill Clinton to George Bush, had made the same promise, but quickly reneged upon taking office.
The 45th US president was determined to show his arrival in Washington spells the end of business as usual, suggesting his predecessors failed to act though lack of “courage.” Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. The Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. Several peace plans have unravelled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem.
The international community does not recognize the ancient city as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in negotiations-a point reiterated by UN chief Antonio Guterres in the wake of Trump’s decision. Guterres implicitly criticized Trump, stressing his opposition to “any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace.”
Trump insisted the move did not prejudge final talks, saying it simply reflected the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement. “Peace is never beyond the grasp of those willing to reach it,” said the US leader, who declared that “this decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace.” “The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides,” Trump said, as he announced that Vice President Mike Pence would travel to the region in the coming days.
Trump further stated that the United States was not taking a position on any “final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. “Those questions are up to the parties involved,” he said. -AFP