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Why is Trump moving the US embassy in Israel?

Donald Trump met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in September 2017 and has now told him he wants to relocate the US Embassy, according to Palestinian officials
Image: Donald Trump met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in September 2017 and has now told him he wants to relocate the US Embassy, according to Palestinian officials

Dominic Waghorn

Diplomatic Editor

Dominic Waghorn

​​​​​​​Why does Donald Trump want to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

Trump has long championed the causes of those on the hard-right of Israeli politics.

Not least because they have supported him. Take Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson – a passionate supporter of radical Jewish settler groups in Jerusalem.

He gave a cool $35 million to groups supporting Trump’s election campaign, which bought him a seat on the platform among former presidents for Trump’s inauguration.

He has been said to be furious at Trump’s delays in moving the embassy

:: Trump confirms Jerusalem embassy plan

Why isn’t the embassy already in Jerusalem?

Jerusalem’s status has not been settled because negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have never reached a final agreement.

Both sides claim it as their capital, so if America puts its Israeli embassy in Jerusalem it would be recognising it as Israel’s capital.

That would be seen as taking sides and that could fatally undermine its role as an honest, neutral broker.

How can both sides claim the same city as their capital?

Israelis calls Jerusalem their ‘eternal undivided’ capital.

It is the centre of the Jewish religion, where the Bible’s King David built his city and where their temples stood on ‘Temple Mount’.

Muslims call the same mount, the Harem esh Sharif, and revere it as their 3rd holiest site, believing it’s where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

For Israelis their capital can’t be anywhere else, but for Palestinians to give up a claim to a site seen as sacred by hundreds of millions of Muslims is equally unthinkable.

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv
Image: The US Embassy in Tel Aviv

So do Israelis want Trump to move the embassy?

Not necessarily. Some on the right of Israeli politics do, but many others do not.

They say it would be premature without a final peace agreement with the Palestinians and fear the consequences.

Former Israeli ambassadors, for instance, have just warned moving it could finish what is left of hopes for peace in the region.

What do Palestinians say?

Islamist group Hamas says it would ignite a third Palestinian uprising or intifada.

The more moderate leadership on the West Bank says it would destroy America’s role as peace broker and scupper any chances of peace.

From Turkey to Malaysia, Muslims have echoed those sentiments.

Israeli's know this area of Jerusalem as Temple Mount while Palestinians know it as Harem esh Sharif.
Image: Israeli’s know this area of Jerusalem as Temple Mount while Palestinians know it as Harem esh Sharif.

Are US allies supportive?

Donald Trump has been warned by allies in varying degrees of severity not to go ahead with the move.

The possibility is causing deep concern in foreign ministries around the world.

What happens next?

The world holds its breath, knowing this may be the closest we have come to the US embassy being moved and the geopolitical earthquake it would unleash.

The President is weak, falling in the polls, beleaguered by an ever tightening investigation and in need of a distraction.

But moving the embassy would be playing into the hands of Islamist extremists.

If America deserts its neutral role in the Middle East conflict, the move would provide a huge boost for their efforts to enlist new recruits.

That would put in danger the lives of Americans and their allies.

Most of the rest of the world does not want the move because Israel’s final status has not been settled in negotiations with Palestinians.

Donald Trump visited Jerusalem in May 2017
Image: Donald Trump visited Jerusalem in May 2017

Why not?

Israel had the western part of the city before the war of 1967 and in that war took the rest including the historic old city which is among the most politically radioactive real estate on Earth. It has held onto those territorial gains ever since.

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Why so radioactive?

For Jews Jerusalem is sacred ground. It is the centre of its religion and where Solomon built the first Jewish temple. On that very spot, Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven before returning again to Earth, The Dome of the Rock that marks that spot is Islam’s third most holy place, after Mecca and Medina.

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    Far-right party to enter Austrian government

    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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