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Sunday, 17 December 2017

Mideast braces for fallout from Trump's move on Jerusalem

AP , Thursday 7 Dec 2017
Palestinian
Palestinian women walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron as a general strike was called following US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. (Photo: AFP)
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Palestinians shuttered schools and shops and called for protests in West Bank towns on Thursday, in show of anger over President Donald Trump's recognition of bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump's dramatic break Wednesday with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem counters long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the city will be determined in negotiations. The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as a future capital.

Saudi Arabia's royal court, led by King Salman and his powerful son, condemned the Trump administration's decision in a rare public rebuke by the U.S. ally.

Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse that could help the White House push through a Middle East settlement, said Thursday the kingdom had already warned against this step and "continues to express its deep regret at the U.S. administration's decision," describing it "unjustified and irresponsible."

Trump's move puts the Sunni nation in a bind. The kingdom, particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, enjoys close relations with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who leads Trump's efforts to restart Mideast peace talks.

U.S. Embassies across much of the Middle East and parts of Africa warned American citizens of possible protests following Trump's move.

In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Trump was seen as siding with Israel's hard-line government which says it will not give up any part of the city.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suggested that the United States disqualified itself as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, a role it has played exclusively in more than two decades of stop-and-go negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The talks, stalled in recent years, have failed to bring the Palestinians closer to the state the seek in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war. In parallel, Israel has steadily expanded its settlements on palestinian  lands, even as it said it wants to negotiate a deal.

Trump's claim Wednesday that he still wants to pursue what he has called the "ultimate" Mideast deal was met by mounting skepticism.

"With its decision, the U.S. has isolated itself and Israel, and has pushed the area into a dangerous situation and stopped the peace process," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Abbas aid. "Without a doubt, this decision will not help at all in solving the problems in the area, but rather strengthen the extremists."

Abbas has not said what steps he would take, if any. Later Thursday, he is to meet with his closest Arab ally, Jordan's King Abdullah II, to coordinate positions.

Jordan plays a central role in the mounting controversy and, alongside other U.S. allies in the region, has slammed Trump's decision on Jerusalem.

The king is seen as one of Washington's most dependable partners in the battle against Islamic extremism in the region.

At the same time, the legitimacy of his Hashemite dynasty is closely linked to its special role in Jerusalem, as religious guardian of a key Muslim shrine in east Jerusalem. Jordan, which has a large population with Palestinian roots, cannot afford to be seen as soft on Muslim claims to the holy city.

The consultations between the monarch and Abbas will kick off a series of meetings in the Arab and Muslim world on how to respond to Trump.

The Arab League, a group representing most states in the Middle East and North Africa, will meet Saturday. Next week, Turkey will host a gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 Arab and Muslim member states.

The region has been bracing for fallout from Trump's seismic policy shift.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Trump of throwing the Middle East into a "ring of fire" and said his motives were difficult to fathom. "It's not possible to understand what you are trying to get out of it, Erdogan said, referring to Trump in a speech to a group of workers at Ankara's airport.

"Political leaders exist not to stir things up, but to make peace," Erdogan said. "If Trump says 'I am strong therefore I am right,' he is mistaken."

With his announcement Wednesday, Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem.

Defying dire, worldwide warnings, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision merely based on reality to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government. He also said the U.S. would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable.

"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump said, brushing aside the appeals for caution from around the world.

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