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US Jews divided on Trump's expected Jerusalem decision

US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017
MANDEL NGAN (AFP)
Jewish Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders warns the announcement could 'irreparably damage' peace efforts

The expectation of an imminent declaration by United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognizing Israel’s claim over the holy city of Jerusalem and announcing plans to relocate the US embassy there sparked debate among American Jews who appeared divided on the contentious moves.

While the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) lauded Trump’s expected announcement, high-profile liberal American Jews and Jewish groups, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, voiced disapproval and joined an international chorus of warnings that the announcement could inflame tensions across the Middle East and sink the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The RJC, which plans to run a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on Thursday thanking Trump for fulfilling his campaign pledge to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, called the decision “a courageous stand that expresses [Trump’s] commitment to repairing and strengthening ties with Israel, our most important ally in the Middle East.”

But Sanders, a Democrat, said the move could “irreparably damage” the administration’s efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“There’s a reason why all past US administrations have not made this move, and why leaders around the world have warned Trump against it: It would undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage our ability to broker it,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

THOMAS COEX (AFP)

The Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization of the Reform Jewish movement led by US Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said similarly that while he considers Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish State, Trump’s announcement was “ill-timed” and should only come as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

“President Trump’s ill-timed, but expected, announcement affirms what the Reform Jewish Movement has long held: that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” he said. “Yet while we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process,” Jacobs said in a statement.

“Any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike,” he continued.

Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, meanwhile, called the expected announcement “an unhelpful step with no tangible benefits, only serious risks.”

Senior White House officials confirmed on Tuesday that Trump would make the landmark announcement -- which upends decades of careful US policy and flies in the face of warnings from America's allies across the region and the world -- at 1 pm (1800 GMT) from the White House.

"He will say that that the United States government recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He views this as a recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality."

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

The status of Jerusalem is a central issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital, and expectations of Trump's announcement have roiled the combustible region.

Most of the international community does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in final status negotiations.

The White House does not believe that the announcement will derail the Trump administration’s efforts to achieve a peace agreement between, and said that the US President was prepared to continue backing a two-state solution if both sides can come to such an agreement.

Plunging further into a bitter centuries-old argument between Jews, Muslims and Christians, Trump will also order planning to begin on moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The source added that the embassy’s relocation could, however, take “years.”

Trump was pushed to act on the embassy as a result of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stated that the city "should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel" and that the US embassy should be moved there.

An inbuilt waiver has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, postponing the move on grounds of "national security" once every six months, meaning the law has never taken effect.

Several peace plans have unravelled over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee sites in the city that are holy for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

AFP contributed to this report.

See also:

Trump backs two state solution if Israelis, Palestinians agree: US official

As it happened: Trump plows ahead with Jerusalem embassy move

Middle East on tenterhooks as Trump prepares explosive Jerusalem speech

Expected US declaration on Jerusalem threatens fragile Israel-Turkey ties

Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital but embassy move may take years

African states may follow Trump Jerusalem embassy move: Tanzania's speaker

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