Abbas Rejects Trump's Jerusalem Speech: U.S. Can No Longer Mediate Between Israel and Palestinians

Palestinian president says Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital undermines two-state solution, undermines U.S. position as peace mediator

Palestinian protesters burn pictures of US President Donald Trump at the manger square in Bethlehem on December 5, 2017.
Palestinian protesters burn pictures of US President Donald Trump at the manger square in Bethlehem on December 5, 2017. MUSA AL SHAER/AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's speech on Jerusalem, saying America's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital encourages the occupation and construction of Israeli settlements.

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In exclusive comments to Haaretz, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian peace negotatior, said that "President Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: The two-state solution is over. Now is the time to transform the struggle to one of one state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea."

Abbas said that the move drives the U.S. further away from its role as a mediator and sponsor in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and undermines any attempt to achieve at two-state solution. He said Trump's decision violates international law and encourages the occupation and construction of Israeli settlements.

On Wednesday, Muslims across the Middle East warned of disastrous consequences as a result of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Palestinians plan to convene all political organizations, including the Palestinian National Council, in the upcoming days, and will call in all the Palestinian factions to decide on their next steps. Abbas said that Trump's decision will not change the Palestinian position on Jerusalem and will not change the city's status as the Palestinian capital.

"This is a historical moment and we must act," said Abbas. "The U.S. can no longer function as a diplomatic sponsor and [peace] mediator."

A Christmas tree adorned with lights outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, and another in Ramallah, next to the burial site of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, were plunged into darkness. 

"The Christmas tree was switched off on the order of the mayor today in protest at Trump's decision," said Fady Ghattas, Bethlehem's municipal media officer.

Alongside the recognition, Trump's speech included three central points. The American president refrained from explicitly stating that the two-state solution is the only path to a peace agreement, and said the U.S. supports such a solution only if it agreed upon by both sides.

Trump also announced that he has instructed the relevant teams to begin planning the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, yet did not state when such a move would take place.

Finally, Trump stressed that the American recognition of Jerusalem is not tantamount to a position on the issue of Israeli borders and sovereignty in Jerusalem. Those, he said, will be decided upon in negotiations.  

"It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said, adding that the move was "a long overdue step to advance the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians. 

He said recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital is not only a "necessary condition for achieving peace," but also "in the best interests of the United States of America."

"We are not taking a position of 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," Trump said.

Following his speech, Trump signed the presidential waiver to delay moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months.

Shortly after Trump's speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the U.S. president's announcement, saying, "The president's decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn't include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.

"I share President Trump's commitment to advancing peace between Israel and all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians. And we will continue to work with the President and his team to make that dream of peace come true," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister added: "I call on all countries that seek peace to join the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move their embassies here."

Washington's official recognition signals a significant shift in American foreign policy and is expected provoke ire among Palestinians and alienate the Arab and Muslim world.

Shortly before Trump's speech, the U.S. State Department issued a cable to all its diplomatic posts worldwide on Wednesday asking its officials to defer non-essential travel to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank until December 20.