US President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States now officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime US policy and potentially threatening regional stability.
"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," Trump said during a speech at the White House.
Nevertheless, Trump emphasized that "This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace. We're not taking a position on 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. We remain committed to facilitate peace agreement acceptable to both sides."
He said the US "would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides."
Recognizing that there will be disagreement and dissent over this announcement, Trump said was confident that "ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation."
He further urged all sides to maintain the status quo, including in the Temple Mount and called for "calm, moderation, and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate."
Trump said Vice President Mike Pence, who stood with him as he made the announcement, would be traveling to the region to assure the different sides in the conflict that the United States remains committed to the cause of peace.
The American president spoke about the 1995 bipartisan Congress adoption of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, saying his predecessors have signed waivers to delay the embassy move for over 20 years "under the belief delaying recognition would advance the cause of peace."
Despite this, "After more than two decades of waivers, we're no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be a folly to assume that repeating the same formula would produce different results," he said.
He said his decision marked the start of a "new approach" to solving the thorny conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. "We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump argued.
"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," he continued, calling it "overdue" and in the best interests of the United States.
Trump further stressed recognition acknowledged the "obvious" that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel's government despite the disputed status that is one of the key elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital," Trump asserted. "Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace."
He lamented the fact the United States not only refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but also "declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all."
"Jerusalem the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times," he stressed. "Today it's the seat of the modern Israeli government, home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Supreme Court. It is also the location of the official residences of the prime minister and president."
Trump directed that the State Department begin the process of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.
The Trump administration has opted against an earlier plan of converting the existing US Consulate in Jerusalem to an embassy, said a non-governmental expert on the Middle East who consults regularly with the White House. Instead, it's looking to construct an entirely new facility over the long term and a US team is examining prospective sites in Jerusalem, said the individual.
"The new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace," Trump promised, signing a proclamation to that effect.
Trump's predecessors—from Bill Clinton to George Bush—made similar promises on the campaign trail, but quickly reneged upon taking office, and the burden of war and peace.
"While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering," he boasted.
Trump maintained that his decision would not compromise the city's geographic and political borders, which will still be determined by Israel and the Palestinians.
Ahead of Trump's speech, Arab and Muslim leaders spoke about the potential for violence. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their "eternal capital," language that Israelis similarly use for their nation.
Even America's closest allies in Europe questioned the wisdom of Trump's radical departure from the past US position, which was studiously neutral over the sovereignty of the city.
Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It's also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered protests in the past, in the Holy Land and beyond.
Hundreds of Palestinians burned US and Israeli flags as well as pictures of Trump in the Gaza Strip, while relatively small clashes erupted near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.
The Palestinian armed Islamist movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new "intifada," or uprising.
Palestinians called for three days of protests—or "days of rage"—starting Wednesday.
Anticipating protests, America's consulate in Jerusalem has ordered US personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.
"Embassy Tel Aviv and Consulate General Jerusalem request that all non-essential visitors defer their travel to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank from December 4-December 20, 2017," said a cable issued by the State Department.
The Associated Press, Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.