WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem on Wednesday, declaring the sorely divided holy city as Israel's capital and sparking frustrated Palestinians to cry out that he had destroyed already-fragile Mideast hopes for peace.
Defying dire, worldwide warnings, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision merely based on reality to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government. He also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable.
"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump said, brushing aside the appeals for caution from around the world.
Trump made no reference to signing a waiver that officially delays any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the White House confirmed he signed the waiver Wednesday. It means there will be no embassy move for at least another six months.
Harsh objections came from a wide array of presidents and prime ministers. From the Middle East to Europe and beyond, leaders cautioned Trump that any sudden change on an issue as sensitive as Jerusalem not only risks blowing up the new Arab-Israeli peace initiative led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but could lead to new violence in the region.
Indeed, Muslims across the Middle East warned Wednesday of disastrous consequences after Trump's action, but in a region more divided than ever, many asked what leaders can do beyond the vehement rhetoric.
Arab powerhouses are mired in their own internal troubles, their populations tired of wars, and the days when Arab leaders could challenge the United States in a meaningful way are long gone.
No government beyond Israel spoke up in praise of Trump or suggested it would follow his lead.
Israelis and Palestinians reacted in starkly different terms. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump's announcement as an "important step toward peace," and Israeli opposition leaders echoed his praise. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump's shift serves extremist groups that want religious war and signals U.S. withdrawal from being a peace mediator. Protesters in Gaza burned American and Israeli flags.
Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a powerfully symbolic statement about a city that houses many of the world's holiest sites. Trump cited several: the Western Wall that surrounded the Jews' ancient Temple, the Stations of the Cross that depict Jesus along his crucifixion path, the al-Asqa Mosque where Muslims say their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
And there are major ramifications over who should control the territory. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has seen the city's future as indelibly linked to the "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians that Trump believes he can reach. Beyond Kushner, Trump has dispatched other top emissaries to the region in recent months in hopes of advancing new negotiations.
Trump said he wasn't delivering any verdict about where an Israeli-Palestinian border should lie. Instead, he described his Jerusalem declaration as recognizing the reality that most of Israel's government already operates from the city, and he suggested the U.S. ally should be rewarded for creating a successful democracy where "people of all faiths are free to live and worship."
"Today we finally acknowledge the obvious," he said, emphasizing that he wouldn't follow past presidents who tiptoed around Jerusalem out of diplomatic caution.
U.S. embassies and consulates around the world were put on high alert. Across the Middle East and Europe, they issued warnings to Americans to watch out for violent protests. In Jordan, the U.S. said it would close its embassy to the public on Thursday and urged children of diplomats there to stay home from school.
Later Wednesday, the State Department issued an updated "Worldwide Caution" to U.S. citizens abroad, advising travelers to "be alert to the possibility of political unrest, violence, demonstrations, and criminal activities."
Egypt denounced Trump's decision, describing it in a Foreign Ministry statement as a violation of international resolutions on the city's status. The statement said Egypt is worried about the impact of the U.S. move on the stability of the region and about its "extremely negative" impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country like Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, said he had expressed his concerns to Trump in a phone call Tuesday, saying that ignoring Palestinian, Muslim and Christian rights in Jerusalem would only fuel further extremism.
In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags and waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as "our eternal capital" and calling recognition of it as Israel's capital a "red line." Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, called for more protests over the coming days.
Hamas official Salah Bardawil said the Palestinians were "on a dangerous crossroad today; we either remain or perish."