President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to relocate the U.S. embassy there, a controversial move that critics say may further inflame tensions in the Middle East.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the president said during a press conference at the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence, who worked closely on the plan, standing behind him.
The president called the move a “long overdue step to advance the peace process” while taking a slight shot at his predecessors by claiming that after 20 years of waivers, “we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
During the announcement, the president made it clear that he was making good on one of his major promises he made ahead of the 2016 election.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” Trump said. “Today, I am delivering.”
Trump said the change in foreign policy will be a key step toward “a lasting agreement” in the region, something the president campaigned on and assigned his son-in-law Jared Kushner with achieving. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this is a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”
“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”
However, critics of the president deviating from recent U.S. foreign policy fear the move will spark chaos in the region and make a possible peace deal even more unlikely. Pope Francis urged Trump to maintain the “status quo” in the region.
“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.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Trump informed of the decision Tuesday, also warned Trump during a recent phone call.
“President Abbas warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security, and stability of the region and of the world,” Abbas’s spokesman said.
But Trump explained on Wednesday that the change in U.S. diplomatic strategy is not intended to impact possible peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,” Trump said. “We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. 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 also stated that the United States is still open to a two-state solution “if agreed to by both sides.”
Following the speech, Trump signed a waiver to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for the time being. It’s estimated to take years before a new embassy can open in Jerusalem.
Watch the remainder of Trump’s remarks below, via CNN.