Trump just doubled down on a big change to Israel policy and confirmed Jerusalem is 'off the table'

  • President Donald Trump confirmed a big change to US policy on Israel while speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday.
  • “We took Jerusalem off the table,” Trump said.
  • Trump used similar language in a series of tweets earlier in January.

President Donald Trump doubled down Thursday on a change to the US’s approach to Middle East peace while speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum.

“We took Jerusalem off the table,” Trump said. “So we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

It was unclear from Trump’s televised remarks whether he was merely doubling down on or also expanding the shift in US policy on Israel he announced in a landmark speech in December. In those remarks, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said the US would be moving its embassy in the country there from Tel Aviv.

Trump has suggested he hopes to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward by removing the status of the holy city as a debatable issue.

“You won one point, and you’ll give up some points later in the negotiation, if there’s ever a negotiation,” Trump told Netanyahu on Thursday.

Some analysts, however, interpreted Trump’s latest words as signalling a new unwillingness to negotiate the borders of Jerusalem, as the Palestinians generally seek East Jerusalem as their capital in a two-state solution to the conflict.

Trump used similar language as he did Thursday in a series of tweets earlier in January.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel,” Trump tweeted. “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”

“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he added.

Trump on Thursday said he believed US aid payments to Palestine were still “on the table” for negotiations.

The US has yet to present its much-discussed peace plan for the Middle East, but Trump saidThursday: “It’s a great proposal for the Palestinians. I think it’s a very good proposal for Israel.”

Big changes to how US views the Middle East

The president’s December speech about Israel spurred weeks of deadly protests in the Palestinian territories and across the Arab world.

Both recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy were among Trump’s campaign promises and change decades of US policy in the Middle East.

Notably, however, Trump said then that the US was not ruling out future changes to borders.

“We are 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,” Trump said in the December speech. “Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

While East Jerusalem, including the historic Old City, has been under Israeli control since 1967, Palestinians generally desire it as the capital of any future second state. The status of the city has long been a sticking point in any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and critics saw Trump’s December announcement as a sign the US was not an impartial mediator.

“Jerusalem is a place for Jews to pray at the Western Wall and Muslims to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque,” the president said in December.

Trump’s televised remarks Thursday, however, would do little to calm fears of many Arab states that the US is embracing an even more hardline policy.

The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent, Michael Wilner, even suggested that a further change in policy may doom the US-led peace process altogether.

“West Jerusalem was never actually on the table – everyone knows it is in practice now and will continue to be Israel’s capital,” Wilner tweeted after Trump’s comments Thursday.

He added: “The question has always been the status of East Jerusalem, and if Trump thinks that is off the table, there will never be a negotiation.”

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