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Trump misses deadline over moving US embassy to Jerusalem

White House says decision will be made in coming days, as Turkey warns that any change to citys status would be a red line for Muslims

Donald Trump appears to have missed a deadline for signing a waiver on a US law requiring its embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, in an act of brinkmanship over one of the Middle Easts most fraught issues.

According to diplomats and Palestinians officials, the original deadline was expected to have fallen on Friday at midnight and was pushed to Monday. That deadline passed without an announcement after a White House official said no action would be taken on Monday.

Amid mounting anxiety over Trumps intentions, the US president was facing a growing chorus of warnings over potential repercussions over a unilateral US decision regarding Jerusalems status.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, described the status of Jerusalem as a red line for Muslims that could lead to a severing of relations with Israel, while the European Union warned of possible serious repercussions.

Saudi Arabia which has been enjoying a discreet warming of relations with Israel cautioned against taking any step that would obstruct the ongoing efforts to revive the peace process.

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Why would moving the US embassy to Jerusalem be so contentious?

Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict betweenIsraeland the Palestinians, none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the citys boundaries and annexed it an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its united and eternal capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international view, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the citys status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Any move to recognise Jerusalem as Israels capital would put the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimise Israeli settlement-building in the east considered illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP

Some reports suggest Trump may reluctantly announce the signing of the waiver in the coming days, others that he may also announce that he plans to recognise Jerusalem as Israels capital. The latter would result in the Palestinian leadership stopping contacts with the US, a diplomatic adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas said .

In June, Trump issued a waiver to comply with the 1995 law, which insists the president must relocate the embassy to Jerusalem or explain at six-monthly intervals why doing so is not in the national security interests of the US.

The failure to announce the signing of the newest waiver does not indicate whether or not the US president has approved it. However, it feeds into a growing tension in the region.

The status of Jerusalem is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital. Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to move the embassy.

All foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv with consular representation in Jerusalem. For more than two decades successive administrations have signed a legal waiver delaying by six months plans to move the US embassy to the Holy City.

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What might Trump do next on the embassy waiver?

Some Palestinian officials believe that Trump will ultimately back down to Arab pressure, sign the waiver and step back from any suggested recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

A more likely option is that Trump will sign the waiver but also announce the recognition of Jerusalem in some wording an option still fraught with problems.

Finally, Trump could refuse to sign the waiver and order that the US embassy be moved. This is seen as the most dangerous option, which both US and Israeli security officials believe could trigger violence, including against US interests in the region.

Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP

If the status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken that would be a major catastrophe, the Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozda, said on Monday. It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.

The Arab League leader, Abul Gheit, warned any such move would pose a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world, while the French president, Emmanuel Macron, warned Trump that Jerusalems status must be decided within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The White House statement saying that Trump would miss the deadline came after a frantic 48 hours of public warnings from allies and private phone calls between world leaders.

The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go: its not a matter of if, its a matter of when, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who said a declaration on the move would be made in the coming days.

Palestinian sources made clear they had expected the waiver to be continued. We were told the waiver would be signed, one official told the Guardian. The expectation of [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas office was that then Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israels capital, which we and no Arab leader can accept.

If that happens, the source added, we will walk away from contacts with US officials.

The sense of danger around the issue was underlined by a report in the Washington Post that a classified memo had been sent to embassies in the Middle East warning of the risk of anti-American protests related to an announcement concerning the embassy.

Domestic politics may push Trump toward recognising Jerusalem as Israels capital instead, in a gesture towards conservative voters and donors.

Amid internal White House disagreements, several US administration officials were unable or unwilling to say with certainty what Trump would decide. The presidents going to make his decision, his Middle East peace envoy and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said.

Israelis defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, urged Trump to grasp a historic opportunity.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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