The United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, breaking long-standing Washington policy on the Middle East in a move observers fear could inflame regional tensions and jeopardize efforts to promote peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said as he directed the State Department to start the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in line with a campaign promise.
What he calls "a new approach" to address conflict between Israel and Palestinians is regarded as a highly contentious step by Palestinian and Arab leaders, but Trump said the United States remains committed to helping the two sides create lasting peace.
"This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement," he said in a White House address. "The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides."
Given that more than two decades of waivers by successive U.S. presidents to postpone the recognition of Jerusalem in this manner has not led to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians, Trump said, "It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result."
In response to the U.S. policy shift, the U.N. Security Council will convene an emergency meeting Friday at the request of Britain, France and six other countries in the 15-member body, according to a Japanese official, whose country holds the Security Council presidency for December.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital upends the decades-old U.S. position -- and international consensus -- that the city's status is to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel calls Jerusalem its capital and its government operates from there. However, Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 war, as the capital of their future state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. leader for his "historic decision," saying it is an important step toward peace.
"I share President Trump's commitment to advancing peace between Israel and all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians," Netanyahu said in a statement. "I call on all countries that seek peace to join the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move their embassies here."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Trump's action, claiming it represents "a declaration of the withdrawal of the United States from playing the role which it has played over the past decades as a peace broker."
"These measures are a reward to Israel's violations of international resolutions and an encouragement for Israel to continue its policy of occupation, settlements, apartheid and ethnic cleansing," Abbas was quoted as saying by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres indirectly criticized Trump's decision, telling reporters, "I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians."
Guterres also said, "Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties."
In the address, Trump said he recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, but he does not think the peace process is aided by ignoring the fact that Jerusalem is home to Israel's president, prime minister, parliament and supreme court.
"Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital," he said. "Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace."
Nonetheless, Trump said the United States is "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," he said.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the region in the coming days to reaffirm U.S. commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism, according to Trump.