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'It's catastrophic:' US allies reject Trump's expected Jerusalem pronouncement

A guide leads American tourists near the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 6, 2017. President Trump plans to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, upending nearly seven decades of American foreign policy. Uriel Sinai / copyright 2017 The New York Times

BERLIN - Despite strong criticism from the Middle East and carefully worded rebukes from U.S. allies, President Trump is expected to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, Dec. 6, and to announce moving the U.S. Embassy there in a decision that would upend decades of U.S. policy.

Several countries, among them many U.S. allies in Europe, are warning that the move could further disrupt relations between Palestinians and Israelis and spark unrest in the region.

Close allies such as Britain, France and Germany all criticized Trump or voiced skepticism ahead of his scheduled pronouncement. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel used the example to emphasize Tuesday why traditional U.S.-European ties have started to "crumble."

"We all know the far-reaching impact this move would have," Gabriel said. "Germany's position on this issue remains unchanged: A solution to the Jerusalem problem can only be found through direct negotiations between both parties. Everything which worsens the crisis is counterproductive."

The German foreign minister's words were echoed Tuesday by French President Emmanuel Macron, who "reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians," according to a statement released by the French Embassy in Washington.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson similarly indicated that the Wednesday announcement could further disrupt efforts to reach peace in the region. "Clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward, and I would say that that should happen as a matter of priority," Johnson said Wednesday morning as he stood next to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at NATO headquarters in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May indicated that she would discuss the decision with Trump and emphasized that Britain's position to not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital remained unchanged.

In the Netherlands, criticism of Trump was also unusually strong. "We think it's an unwise step and a counterproductive step. If we want to solve at some moment the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we need a two-state solution, and a one-sided step is not going to help," said Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra in a Wednesday interview. "I don't think we can use another conflict in this very explosive region." Zijlstra said he had conveyed his concerns to Tillerson in Brussels, during a NATO meeting.

Guy Verhofstadt, an influential liberal member of the European Parliament, tweeted that he feared Trump's "plans to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital could be the kiss of death for the middle east peace process. In isolation, it would be a short-sighted & deeply divisive act. Trump should be brokering deals, not trashing them."

Perhaps the strongest warning came out of Sweden, where Foreign Minister Margot Wallström warned that the changes are "obviously going to lead to massive effects and unease."

"It's catastrophic," Wallström said.

The expected announcement dominated European news coverage Wednesday, especially in countries such as Germany, France and Britain where anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in recent years - partially due to an escalation of tensions between Israel and Palestinians. European nations have hosted multiple interfaith events to discuss ways to de-escalate, and Pope Francis was among the leaders speaking out in favor of preserving the status quo of Jerusalem, which is considered to be a holy city by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

"The Holy Land is for us Christians the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind," the pope said. "The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be." The pope also spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

Abbas also reached out to the presidents of Russia and France, as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan on Tuesday, urging them to stop the Trump administration's formal recognition.

In Russia, the Kremlin joined the list of nations fearing that Trump's expected announcement would exacerbate tensions between Israel and Palestinians, saying that the situation could worsen as a result.

It was one of the few times the Kremlin shared a common foreign policy goal with most member states of NATO, whose foreign ministers convened in Brussels for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. In a tweet posted following a Wednesday morning meeting with Tillerson, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the possibility of Trump formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital a "grave mistake."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the U.S. plan is "unlawful" and could bring "irreversible consequences" in the region.

His comments came one day after Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Jerusalem a "red line" for the Muslim world and threatened to cut ties with Israel. Erdogan and Abdullah both warned on Wednesday that the U.S. move would play into the hands of terrorists. A special summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was scheduled for Dec. 13 to discuss the issue.

"Jerusalem is a very delicate subject in the world of Islam," Yildirim said at a news conference in Seoul, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. "Wrong steps in this direction would bring irreversible consequences," he said, adding that such a move could "bring a new conflict between religions."

This article was written by Rick Noack of The Washington Post.