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Netanyahu says many countries will move embassies to Jerusalem

In this May 23, 2017, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File
The Israeli military deployed hundreds of more troops to the occupied West Bank Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he is in touch with other countries that are ready to follow the United States in recognizing Israel's claim on Jerusalem, adding that many will re-locate their embassies to the holy city possibly even before the US move commences.

"I would like to announce that we are already in contact with other countries that will recognize similar recognition, and I have no doubt that as soon as the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before that, many embassies will move to Jerusalem. It's time," the Israeli Prime Minister emphasized.

Speaking at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the second international Digital Diplomacy Conference, Netanyahu nevertheless lauded Trump's landmark address on Wednesday.

"We were moved to hear the historic statement by US President Donald Trump on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Netanyahu stated.

"President Trump bound himself forever with the history of our capital. His name will now be proudly displayed alongside other names in the city's glorious history. I would like to thank him, and I would also like to thank the American Congress, which 22 years ago anchored the recognition until the president arrived to put this law into effect."

MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP)

In his remarks, Israel's Prime Minister reinforced the historical significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, saying that Trump's move was "based on an ancient right."

"The Jewish people established Jerusalem as its capital 3,000 years ago. This is where our forefathers walked, here our kings reigned, here our prophets preached, here our roots lie. This is actually our identity card," he said.

- Pockets of support for Trump's decision -

Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that both the Czech Republic and the Philippines were eager to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reported Haaretz.

The officials said they expect Czech President Milos Zeman to recognize the city as Israel’s capital in an interview later on Thursday.

Hungary is expected to follow suit, as Budapest on Wednesday blocked a joint EU statement that would have opposed Trump’s move, European sources told The Times of Israel.

Nevertheless, some Israeli officials are concerned that countries will choose to recognize only West Jerusalem, as Russia did earlier this year.

Ghana and Tanzania's parliamentary leaders preempted Trump's official announcement, stating on Tuesday that Tanzania and other African countries could follow suit with moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

US lawmakers across the political spectrum also reacted positively to President Donald Trump's announcement Wednesday that he is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, although some warned the move would inflame tensions and stall peace efforts.

NICHOLAS KAMM (AFP)

Several Democrats and Trump's Republicans hailed the move as long overdue, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said in a statement that "Jerusalem has been, and always will be, the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel."

"Today's announcement is a recognition of reality that in no way inhibits efforts to reach a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," added Ryan.

However, the Palestinians and Arab world beg to differ, as does most of the international community, which fiercely condemned Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

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 to the move, which was set for Friday.

JOHN THYS          (AFP)

The leaders of Muslim nations meanwhile deployed ever-harsher rhetoric to describe Trump's decision, while Jordan and the Palestinians requested an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers.

- Palestinian and Arab world recoil -

US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital sparked a Palestinian general strike and a call for a new intifada on Thursday as fears grew of fresh bloodshed in the region.

The Israeli military deployed hundreds of more troops to the occupied West Bank amid uncertainty over the fallout from Trump's decision.

The Palestinian Authority called for a major demonstration to be held in the West Bank city of Ramallah beginning at 11:00 a.m. local time (0900 GMT), while shops in East Jerusalem and Nablus were shuttered for a general commercial strike.

Several thousand marched in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Wednesday night, burning US and Israeli flags while chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya condemned Trump's statement as a "declaration of war".

"This Zionist policy supported by the US cannot be confronted unless we ignite a new intifada," Haniya said, urging Palestinians to "go out in anger" and defend the city, which he declared as "the capital of all Palestine".

SAID KHATIB (AFP)

Trump's announcement prompted an almost universal diplomatic backlash that continued on Thursday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning it would put the region in a "ring of fire".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu however lavished praised on Trump, saying his name would now be associated with Jerusalem's long history and urging other countries to follow his lead.

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.

Trump said this marks the start of a "new approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," he said in a speech from the White House on Wednesday, urging calm and "the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate."

Trump's backing of Israel's claim over the holy city delivered a major blow to the Palestinians, who claim Arab-majority East Jerusalem as the capital of their desired state.

- Competing Claims on Jerusalem -

Under the UN Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine adopted in 1947, Jerusalem was meant to be an internationally-administered city. However, the Arabs did not accept the UN resolution and following the establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, the Israeli Independence Day War broke out.

At the end of the conflict, Israel occupied 78% of Mandatory Palestine and later seized Arab east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967, annexing it in a move never recognized by the international community.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

The Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Several peace plans have unraveled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem.

The international community does not formally 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.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

"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.

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