According to senior White House staff, President Trump will announce his plan today to recognize Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel and instruct the State Department to begin the process of moving the the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While Hamas has reacted to the move by calling for intifada or “three days of rage”, even Christians in Jerusalem are deeply divided in their thoughts about the decision.
The embassy move was signed into law in 1995, but the attached provision for the President to delay the move every six months by signing a waiver allowed it to go unfulfilled for over two decades. Trump allowed his second waiver deadline to expire this Monday, finally activating the law requiring the move and fulfilling a major campaign promise.
The White House officials who made the preliminary announcement assured that no official boundaries within Jerusalem will be changed by the decision to move the embassy. Instead, they said the move stems from the "recognition of reality” of the fact that Jerusalem has been Israel's seat of power for the last seven decades. At this early stage, it has not been decided where or exactly when the Jerusalem embassy will be built, but it is estimated that the process could take years. The task of finding a site and beginning construction will be assigned to the State Department. Until they do so, President Trump must continue to sign required waivers to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv functioning until construction is complete.
Ahead of the President’s announcement, the passing of the waiver deadline has already made significant waves in the Middle East. Palestinian Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh referred to the embassy move as breaking “red lines,” and a move that would ignite the “spark of rage against the occupation." In response to the Hamas call for “three days of rage”, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has warned U.S. citizens to avoid traveling in certain areas of Israel: "With widespread calls for demonstrations beginning December 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho."
While Trump’s decision to move the embassy has been an answer to prayer to many American Christian supporters of Israel, Christianity Today reports that the move is simultaneously encouraging and unnerving divided Christians in Jerusalem.
“I am obviously pleased, as an Israeli,” David Friedman, a professor at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and former dean of King of Kings College in Jerusalem reported to CT. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, de facto, concretely. Our government sits there. So why should President Trump continue ignoring reality?”
However, Botrus Mansour, a Baptist elder and co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, has a dramatically different take on the move: “It is a bad idea. It will increase resentment and possibly spark unnecessary violence, making peace harder to obtain. America will lose any remaining legitimacy it had as a fair broker.”
CT suggests that Israel’s neighboring states, Egypt and Jordan, may suffer the biggest impact of all. Both nations have peace treaties with Israel, but still strongly support the Palestinian cause. Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, said that “[Recognizing Jerusalem] will create more tension in the region, and encourage extremists. It is not a helpful position, and Egyptian Christians will be disappointed.”
Meanwhile, Jordanian Christians feel “fragile,” according to Philip Madanat, adjunct professor of sociology at JETS and a researcher of Islamic movements. He reported to CT that Christians there fear any upending of the status quo: “There can always be surprises in the street, especially if economic frustration mixes with political outrage over Jerusalem. It just needs a spark.”