A look at the stakes if US moves Israel embassy to Jerusalem

Published 9:31 am Friday, January 13, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians are ringing alarm bells over Donald Trump’s stated intention to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem, fearing quick action once he takes office as U.S. president next week. They say an embassy move would kill any hopes for negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and rile the region by undercutting Muslim and Christian claims to the holy city.

Why does it matter?

Jerusalem forms the core of rival, religiously tinged national narratives of Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides claim it as a capital, and disagreement over how to divide Jerusalem helped derail previous U.S.-led talks on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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From Israel’s founding in 1948 until the 1967 Mideast war, Jerusalem was divided into a western sector that served as Israel’s capital and an eastern, traditionally Arab sector run by Jordan. Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and annexed an expanded east Jerusalem to its capital.

Today, more than 37 percent of 850,000 city residents are Palestinians. East Jerusalem’s Old City houses major Jewish, Muslim and Christian shrines revered by billions around the world. The Palestinians seek a state in the lands captured by Israel, with east Jerusalem as a capital.

Why are the Palestinians upset?

The Palestinians argue that moving the embassy, now located in Israel’s metropolis of Tel Aviv, amounts to U.S. recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They say this would close the door to negotiating a “two-state solution” because it would pre-judge the outcome of one of the most explosive disputes in the conflict and disqualify Washington as mediator. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he could never accept a deal in which Israel keeps the entire city. An embassy move could further weaken the 81-year-old Abbas politically.