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WASHINGTON: Hours before a momentous announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump said that the move was “long overdue.”
“Many presidents have said they want to do something and they didn’t do it. Whether it’s courage or they changed their mind, I can’t tell you,” Trump said, portraying himself as daring to fulfill a promise that previous presidents have shied away from.
“I think it’s long overdue,” he said.
Trump is expected to upend decades of US policy later Wednesday by stating that the holy city — part of which is claimed by Palestinians — rightfully belongs to Israel.
The announcement has been preceded by warnings of a violent response in the Muslim world and demonstrators in the Gaza Strip burning American flags.
JERUSALEM SPLIT BETWEEN IRE AND JOY BY ‘HISTORIC’ TRUMP SHIFT
Israelis and Palestinians reacted with shock, anger or joy on Wednesday to US President Donald Trump’s plan to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the disputed city remained calm despite calls for protests.
An outpouring of emotions is expected after Trump speaks, with a major protest set for the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday and the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip Hamas calling for a day of rage Friday.
But already ahead of the announcement there were signs of the rising tensions.
Hundreds of angry Palestinians in the Gaza Strip burned American and Israeli flags and pictures of Trump at demonstrations.
Meanwhile there were relatively small clashes at the entrance to the Al-Arroub refugee camp near the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
In Jerusalem itself the situation was calm on a cold and wet Wednesday morning — with Palestinian responses varying from fury to resignation.
“How can he bring the embassy from Tel Aviv to here?” 50-year-old Mohammed Nabarak said.
“There will be new problems again. There will be a new intifada,” he said, referring to the two previous bloody Palestinian uprisings.
“The Western countries are even more against it than the Arabs.”
Salah al-Shawish, 49, said that the decision would “make things worse”.
“It is natural for the corrupt Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because the Arab world is torn and its leaders weak,” he said.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel seized control of the east of the city in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community.
Israel considers the city its undivided capital, but Palestinians believe the east is illegally occupied and see it as the capital of their future state.
There are no clear walls or barriers separating east and west, only invisible lines known to the residents.
In the Old City, populated largely by Palestinians, heavily armed Israeli forces patrol the streets and control access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a key site for Muslims.
“If they recognise Jerusalem as the capital or they don’t, what will change? We are living under occupation,” Abu Abed, a Palestinian in the Old City, said Wednesday.
At least until Trump’s announcement, no countries currently fully recognise Israeli control over the city, with all foreign embassies located in Tel Aviv.
For Israelis in Jerusalem the Trump announcement was a major moment.
Emmanuel Posen, 44, said he had been smiling all morning after hearing the news.
“It is about time — 3,000 years later than it should have been,” he said, referring to the long Jewish history in the city.
He insisted he was not concerned about potential violence as Palestinians react to the move.
“If I was afraid for every step I am making (because of) what the Arabs will do I wouldn’t do anything,” he said.
Eugene Kontorovich, a campaigner for moving the embassy and head of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem-based conservative think-tank, lauded it as an “extraordinary development of historic proportions.”
“Since the birth of the state of Israel (in 1948) no president has recognised Jerusalem as being part of the country.”