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Trump May Recognize Jerusalem as Israel's Capital, Relocate the US Embassy – Neither or Both

By DEBKAfile and Israel News Faxx Sources

President Donald Trump spoke to Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday amid high suspense for his announcement Wednesday, Dec.6 on the status of Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that he had been informed by President Trump of his decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Abbas spoke after the US president phoned him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to prepare the ground for the announcement promised for Wednesday on his decision regarding Jerusalem. Israel's Transport Minister Yisrael Katz later said that, according to his information, the US president will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the embassy at a later date.

The Jerusalem embassy act of 1995 mandates the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – unless the president signs a six-month waiver. No US president has thus far waived the waiver. Trump signed it on June 1 but missed the Dec. 4 deadline, leaving his intentions up in the air. The same 1995 act also called for Jerusalem to "remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel."

Warnings of dire consequences – major unrest, Arab and Muslim anger and an end to the peace process – came from the Middle East as Trump pondered a change in Jerusalem's status. Earlier, Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned that his failure to sign the waiver would trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world. Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shouky spoke of a "negative impact" in the region; Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan called recognizing Jerusalem a "red line" for Muslims and warned he would sever ties with Israel; the Palestinians threatened a violent new uprising; and the Saudi ambassador to Washington warned of a "detrimental impact" on the peace process.

Israel's ambassador to Washington, in an interview to Politico Monday, advised the Palestinians to "Wake up." Not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he said, is a farce. "Understand that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. You have to deal with that reality."

On Wednesday, President Trump may choose three options: Recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel, while refraining from signing the waiver on the embassy's relocation. There would be nothing to stop the embassy's move to Jerusalem at some later date.

Withhold recognition and refrain from signing the waiver for the second time. This would leave the door open for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem or to sign the waiver and refrain from recognizing Jerusalem – in deference to heavy Arab-Muslim-European pressure.

The only solid evidence of a change in store was found by DEBKAfile at the site in southern Jerusalem that was allotted long ago for a US embassy compound. Left derelict and overgrown with weeds for decades, the site was suddenly last week enclosed with a new iron fence.

Official White House sources disclosed Tuesday that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman had informed President Trump that, while Riyadh publicly objects to Jerusalem's recognition as Israel's capital, and relocation of the US embassy, neither would be a bar to Saudi engagement with Israel; nor should they be detrimental to Trump administration steps in the Middle East.

Arab and Muslim states have warned that such a declaration could destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Senior Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath said Trump would no longer be seen as a credible mediator. "The Palestinian Authority does not condone violence, but it may not be able to control the street and prevent a third Palestinian uprising," Shaath said, speaking in Arabic.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the international community maintains its final status must be determined in negotiations. Nevertheless, President Trump says he is committed to a promise he made last year during the election campaign to move the U.S. Embassy out of Tel Aviv, a move favored by many American Jews and Christian evangelicals. Jerusalem is home to the Mosque of Al Aqsa, the third holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the holiest site of all.

On the eve of Trump's expected announcement, Reuters quoted unidentified U.S. State Department officials as expressing concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and also possibly against American interests in the region. U.S. embassies worldwide have been ordered to increase security in anticipation of potential protests.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute in Washington, says the level of anger the announcement might provoke depends greatly on exactly what Trump says. "If the president just says, `we recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel' without trying to define it further and without actually beginning the process of moving the embassy, then it's a big nothing burger (insignificant)," he told VOA.

Feierstein, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and later as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs under President Barack Obama, says if Trump goes any further, it could trigger a backlash and deal a crushing blow to the peace effort.

"If what he says is perceived, or is in fact, a recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he is no longer maintaining the international position that Jerusalem is to be divided and that East Jerusalem is to become the capital of the Palestinian State once there is an agreement, then that is going to have a very negative effect on the peace process," he said. "So, the devil is in the details about how significant this is going to be."

Netanyahu said that Israel's defense establishment is bracing for a potential security escalation following the expected U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem.

According to Channel 10 News, Netanyahu made the comments in response to questions from Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai and Meretz MK Michal Rozin during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting. The two MKs asked whether the Israel Defense Forces and the police were preparing for the potential repercussions such a move might have. Netanyahu smiled and said he did not yet know what Trump's plans are for the U.S. Embassy.

"We are preparing for every possibility. Security forces know full well what to do if and when that happens," he said. He added that at this time, there is no indication of an escalation.

As Trump prepares to address the issue of Jerusalem in a White House speech, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem instructed U.S. officials not to travel to the Old City or West Bank in the face of reports that there will be protests.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned Trump that any action on moving the embassy would destabilize the region and could scuttle the peace talks that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is hoping to revive. Other world leaders have also cautioned Trump against making the move.

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, referring to reports that Trump's remarks would spark Palestinian protests, instructed U.S. government personnel and their families not to travel on Wednesday to the Old City or to the West Bank. It also said U.S. citizens should be alert to dangers.

"United States citizens should avoid areas where crowds have gathered and where there is increased police and/or military presence," the advisory issued Tuesday said.

Two Rockets Fired from Sinai at Southern Israel


At least two rockets were fired overnight Monday from the Sinai Peninsula towards the Eshkol Regional Council in southern Israel. Residents of the region heard incoming rocket sirens five times during the course of the night. The first siren sounded shortly before 2 a.m. and the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said that a launch had been identified.

The second siren was heard approximately an hour after that, and again the IDF said that a rocket had been fired from the Sinai. There were no reports of physical injuries or damages in either incident. Sirens were then heard three more times in the region but the IDF said it could not identify any additional rockets that were fired.

Two months ago, two rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel. The rockets hit the Eshkol Regional Council, but exploded in open regions without causing physicals injuries or damages. The Islamic State (ISIS) group later claimed responsibility for the firing of the rockets, saying the attack "targeted a Jewish community with two Grad missiles".

While most of the rocket attacks targeting southern Israel originate from Gaza, Sinai-based jihadists have several times fired rockets toward the area as well. Last December, ISIS claimed responsibility for firing two missiles from the Sinai Peninsula at an Israeli border crossing, which landed in Egyptian territory.

Thinking of Moving to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? These Israeli Towns Want You Instead.


Many Jews who move to Israel only have eyes for Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Whether it's Tel Aviv's wealth of startups, sunny beaches and culture, or Jerusalem's history and religious life, newcomers want to be where the action is. But neither city is cheap. Tel Aviv is one of the most expensive in the world, and Jerusalem, increasingly crowded, isn't far behind. Tel Aviv's housing prices have risen faster over the past decade than any other city in the world.

So last week, nearly 400 new and newish immigrants, mostly religious Jews from North America, turned up at a Jerusalem conference to explore moving to Israeli cities and towns farther afield. Representatives of 40 locales offered spiels and deals. The overarching message at the "communities fair" run by the Jewish immigration promoter Nefesh B'Nefesh was simple: Life is cheaper and better elsewhere.

"We did this in order to expose the olim to the fact that there are numerous opportunities in Israel," said Rachel Berger, Nefesh B'Nefesh post-aliyah maven. "There is so much more, and it's greater than what you know."

Last year, 76% of the immigrants her organization worked with settled in the populace center of the country, with easy access to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and 24% went to the more remote north and south. "Outside of the center of the country, you have less expensive housing. You have lots of green," Berger said, "and you have a sense of community."

Katie and Joe, a North America-born couple in their late 20s, met and married in Israel several years ago. They said they plan to have children, and are just about fed up with their cramped apartment in this city.

"We have a community in Jerusalem where like all our friends are there, but it's just not sustainable because we all live in like two-bedroom apartments," said Joe, who asked that he and his wife not be identified by their last name. "Nobody wants to live like that for the rest of their life.:

In Tel Aviv, the average three-bedroom apartment costs nearly $1 million, and the cost of housing has more than doubled in the past decade. And that's in a country where the cost of living is already more than 50% higher than the average among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and a home costs more than 12 years of pay on average.

But outside the big cities, and even more so in the north and south of the country, money goes a lot further. According to Nefesh B'Nefesh, homes can be had in Katzrin, a town in the Golan Heights, or Arad, a small city near the Negev capital of Be'er Sheva, for a fifth of the price per square foot in Tel Aviv, a fourth of the price per square foot in Jerusalem. Nefesh B'Nefesh and the government also offer special financial incentives to some who choose to live in Israel's so-called periphery, or non-central regions.

While the community representatives, including many veteran olim, were quick to talk up their community's affordability, they also touted what they said were other benefits of small-town life.

Avigail Buki, a Montreal native, was representing Katzrin. She said she and her husband paid just over $400,000 for a 1,500 square-foot-house with a backyard overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But she said what really drew them to the community was its tight-knit religious atmosphere, natural surroundings and good Orthodox Jewish schools for their children. "Had we chosen somewhere else, we would have to move because Katzrin was exactly what we needed," she said. "People don't lock doors there."

Buki's husband, Yaron, acknowledged that there are also downsides to living in the periphery. He noted that it can be an hours-long commute to the center of the country, where many of the best jobs are based, and there are relatively few English speakers to talk to. Also, he warned, Katzrin is one of the few places in Israel where he could be killed by wildlife. "If you want to die by a boar, come to Katzrin," he joked.

Although Jerusalem is the No. 2 destination for olim and the most populous city in Israel, it is also contested — some parts more than others. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim it as their capital, and it has a large Arab population in eastern Jerusalem.

For their part, Katie and Joe said they had their hearts set on a home in uncontested territory, a coming-soon neighborhood of the southern city of Kiryat Gat that is seeking to attract English-speaking Orthodox Jews like them. A four-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot apartment in one new building there goes for just over $300,000. Joe would be able to get to his marketing job at a Tel Aviv startup by train in just over half an hour, faster than his current commute from Jerusalem.

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