Kerry: Trump Moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Would Lead to a Mideast Explosion

Relocating the U.S. embassy would have a profound impact on Jordan and Egypt's readiness to be supportive of Israel, secretary of state says; Palestinian President Abbas invites Trump to visit Palestine.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks in Washington on January 5, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks in Washington on January 5, 2017.Credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/AFP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who will leave office in two weeks' time, warned on Friday of "an absolute explosion" in the Middle East should President-elect Donald Trump decide to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Such a move could lead to violence flaring up in Israel, the West Bank and across the Middle East, and have a negative impact on relations between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, he said on Friday.

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"You'd have an explosion," he said in an interview with CBS. "You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al-Sharif, as it is called, the Temple Mount, the Dome [of the Rock], and it is a holy site for the Arab world."

"And if all of a sudden Jerusalem is declared to be the location of our embassy, that has issues of sovereignty, issues of law that it would deem to be affected by that move and by the United States acquiescing in that move, and that would have profound impact on the readiness of Jordan and Egypt to be able to be as supportive and engaged with Israel as they are today," he said.

In a separate interview with CNN, also broadcast on Friday night, Kerry said that he had heard that Jordan, the Palestinians and other Arab countries believe that moving the embassy would be a provocative and dangerous move.

"Now, that’s them speaking. We obviously don’t want to see that happen. We support the embassy being there one day. We want that to happen. But we have opposed unilaterally moving it without resolving the other surrounding issues," Kerry said.

An uptick in comments on the issue has been registered in recent days, following a period in which there were almost no statements by the Palestinians or Arab countries on the possibility that the Trump administration would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Abbas invites Trump to visit Palestine

On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas commented on the issue while meeting with Christian officials in Bethlehem. Abbas said that he hopes Trump won't move the embassy, since such a move could lead to a serious crisis in the Middle East peace process that would be impossible to overcome.

He added, "I invite Trump to visit Palestine, and in particular Bethlehem, next year, and I hope that he removes his statement on the Jerusalem embassy from the agenda since any declaration, move or stance that changes Jerusalem's position is a red line that we won't accept."

He clarified that the Palestinians would not react violently, but in diplomatic channels. "We ask the new American administration not to go down that path," he added.

The Palestinian president also called on the American administration to implement the recent UN resolution against Israeli settlements.

Abbas referred to the planned peace conference set to convene in Paris on January 15, saying it should establish an international apparatus to oversee the diplomatic process and the implementation of the international community's decisions, including the recent UN resolution.

'Catastrophic consequences'

On Thursday, Jordanian Minister for Media Affairs Mohammed al-Momani said that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would constitute the crossing of a red line, and that such a move would have "catastrophic consequences."

According to the Jordanian minister, moving the embassy could harm relations between Jordan and other Arab countries and the U.S., and hinted that it would also harm relations with Israel. Momani's remarks were the first statement on the matter from the Jordanian government since Trump won the election.

"Moving the embassy would serve as a gift to extremists and inflame the Islamic and Arab streets," he said.

Last Tuesday, Abbas told representatives of the left-wing Meretz party that he does not believe that Trump would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a source present at the meeting said.

"We are acting with patience and restraint in the face of president-elect Trump's statements," the source at the meeting quoted Abbas as saying. "We understand that things that are said during a campaign do not necessarily reflect the reality of his term. I do not believe that he will move the embassy to Jerusalem. Even he understands that this is a step with irreversible and broad significance beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO, last week said that if the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinians will demand that Arab countries expel U.S. ambassadors from their capitals. He also warned that the Palestinians will take steps against Israel, such as reducing security and economic coordination, as well as consider backtracking on its recognition of Israel.

Some two weeks ago, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer called on the incoming administration to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Addressing the Embassy of Israel's annual Hanukkah reception, Dermer said that such a move would be "a great step forward toward peace."

Dermer's remarks came several days after Trump's appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. In his statement announcing the appointment, Friedman noted that one of his tasks will be to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

A day before, Haaretz reported on a December 1 meeting between Michael Flynn, Trump's designated national security adviser, and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel's acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel. During the meeting, Flynn said that Trump is serious about moving the embassy to Jerusalem and intends to do so.

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