Palestinians burned US and Israeli flags in the streets on Wednesday to protest Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city.
Palestinian and Islamic groups have called for three days of “popular anger” against the US president whose been accused of undermining international stability with the move.
In photos posted to social media, protestors in Bethlehem also burned photos of Trump for the action which signals a dramatic shift in American foreign policy likely to inflame world conflicts.
The president had faced a Monday deadline to make the decision and chose to upend a nearly 70-year policy held by the US to let the two factions decide Jerusalem’s status among themselves.
The move is meant to signal “the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said Wednesday. “We cannot solve our problems by repeating the same failed strategies of the past.”
He criticised former US presidents for declining to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which he called a “long overdue step to advance the peace process.”
Trump also vowed to help work toward a peace deal that is “acceptable to both sides,” and said he would support a two-state solution if it was agreed to by both sides.
“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” he said. “It is also the right thing to do.”
Pope Francis on Wednesday called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts.
In an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience, Francis called for all to honour United Nations resolutions on the city, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“I make a heartfelt appeal so that all commit themselves to respecting the status quo of the city, in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) who said Trump’s decision risked setting back the peace process in the Middle East.
Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said Trump’s decision would deliver the “kiss of death” to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and risked unleashing violence.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking to reporters as he arrived for a Nato summit in Brussels, expressed “concern” over Trump’s plans.
Johnson said the Government “views the reports we’ve heard (about Trump’s plans) with concern because we think Jerusalem, obviously, should be part of the final settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, a negotiated final settlement, we want to see”.
He added that there were “no plans” to move the British Embassy from Tel Aviv.
In a lengthily Facebook post, Labour MP Emily Thornberry condemned Trump saying, even by “his low standards” the decision was a “breathtakingly reckless”.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Gaza, called the overnight protests “a small ball of fire that would roll and turn into a much larger ball later on... there is real concern here that this announcement could spark much larger protests. The move by the US seems to have further unified the Palestinians”.
The coming days’ demonstrations were expected to take place across Palestinian territory and at US embassies around the world.
In anticipation of the demonstrations, the American consulate in Jerusalem banned travel in parts of the city and in the West Bank for government employees, citing safety issues, and urged other US citizens to take caution.
The State Department also told other embassies to up their security, according to The New York Times.
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton made similar vows to Trump during their presidential campaigns, but both later decided not to pursue the relocation when faced with political realities.
The approach of a deadline this week for Trump to sign a waiver that would have assured the embassy remain in Tel Aviv for at least another six months fueled rising tension over his potential shift in policy.
Trump will still sign the waiver, officials said, because there is no immediate timeline for when the embassy relocation will take place and the law requires cuts to State Department funding if the deadline lapses.
Both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to Jerusalem, but Israel has controlled the city since 1967.
Most United Nations members don’t recognize Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, arguing instead that the city should possess international status. For decades, US policy has stated that Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate the city’s status among themselves.
Since Palestinians also consider Jerusalem their capital, any policy that appears to favor the Israelis’ claim over the Palestinians’ is extremely contentious. The status of Jerusalem has therefore long been a key issue in the peace process, and Palestinian officials have said that any change to the city’s status would be destructive.