In break with decades of U.S. policy, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will announce on Wednesday that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime U.S. policy and potentially stirring unrest.

Despite warnings from Western and Arab allies, Trump in a 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) White House speech will direct the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.

Trump is to sign a national security waiver delaying a move of the embassy, since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build an embassy.

Still, Trump's decision, a core promise of his campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as their capital.

Washington's Middle East allies all warned against the dangerous repercussions of his decision when Trump spoke to them on Tuesday.

"The president believes this is a recognition of reality," said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. "We're going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It's just a fact."

Senior Trump administration officials said Trump's decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel's favor and that agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

In defending the decision, the officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: That Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.

RELATED: Photos of the Western Wall in Jerusalem

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Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem
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Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem
JERUSALEM, Oct. 6, 2016 -- Jewish worshippers take part in Slichot, a prayer in which Jews offer repentance and ask God for forgiveness, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Oct. 6, 2016. (Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen via Getty Images)
Ultra Orthodox Jewish boys are seen during a ceremony at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site in Jerusalem's Old City March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
David Friedman, new United States Ambassador to Israel, kisses the Western Wall after arriving in the Jewish state on Monday and immediately paying a visit to the main Jewish holy site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 15, 2017 REUTERS/Ammar Awad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Notes are seen placed in the cracks of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, as people clear space for new notes ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Jewish people wearing 'Talit' (prayer shawls) take part in the Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) during the Passover (Pesach) holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 13, 2017. Thousands of Jews make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the eight-day Pesach holiday, which commemorates the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt some 3,500 years ago and their plight by refraining from eating leavened food products. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, touches the Western Wall as he stands next to Britain's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis during their visit to the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy stands beneath Jewish prayer shawls during the priestly blessing prayer on the holiday of Passover at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
David Friedman, new United States Ambassador to Israel visits the Western Wall after arriving in the Jewish state on Monday and immediately paying a visit to the main Jewish holy site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 15, 2017 REUTERS/Ammar Awad
People release balloons as they celebrate a Bar Mitzvah, a traditional Jewish coming of age ceremony, as the Western Wall (right-hand corner) and the Dome of the Rock are seen in the background, in Jerusalem's Old City February 20, 2017. Picture taken February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Men clear notes placed in the cracks of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, to clear space for new notes ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jewish worshippers are seen from above during the priestly blessing prayer on the holiday of Passover, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish worshipper prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Tisha B'Av, August 14, 2016. Tisha B'Av, a day of fasting and lament, commemorates the date in the Jewish calendar on which it is believed that First and Second Temples were destroyed in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Tisha B'Av, August 14, 2016. Tisha B'Av, a day of fasting and lament, commemorates the date in the Jewish calendar on which it is believed that First and Second Temples were destroyed in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Jewish people take part in the Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) during the Passover (Pesach) holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 13, 2017, with the Dome of the Rock seen in the background. Thousands of Jews make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the eight-day Pesach holiday, which commemorates the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt some 3,500 years ago and their plight by refraining from eating leavened food products / AFP PHOTO / Thomas COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view shows the Dome of the Rock (R) on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and the Western Wall (L) in Jerusalem's Old City October 10, 2006. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte/File Photo
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JANUARY 17: People pray at the Western Wall in the Old City on January 17, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. 70 countries attended the recent Paris Peace Summit and called on Israel and Palestinians to resume negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution, however the recent proposal by U.S President-elect Donald Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and last month's U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank have contributed to continued uncertainty across the region. The ancient city of Jerusalem where Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for thousands of years and is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or for Jews The Temple Mount, continues to be a focus as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued since 1947 when Resolution 181 was passed by the United Nations, dividing Palestinian territories into Jewish and Arab states. The Israeli settlement program has continued to cause tension as new settlements continue to encroach on land within the Palestinian territories. The remaining Palestinian territory is made up of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev touches the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's Old City in Jerusalem, on November 10, 2016. / AFP / POOL / Dan Balilty (Photo credit should read DAN BALILTY/AFP/Getty Images)
A Western Wall employee removes messages and prayers, written on pieces of paper by thousands of people 'addressed to God', from the cracks of the Jewish holy site in Jerusalem's Old City on September 27, 2016, in preparation for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana (New Year prayer). The feast that begins on October 2 marks the start of the 5777 year since the creation of the world according to the Jewish calendar. / AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio places a note in the Western Wall during a visit in Jerusalem's Old City October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Jewish worshippers are seen from above during the priestly blessing prayer on the holiday of Passover, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, during a visit in Jerusalem's Old City February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Marc Sellem/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION TRAVEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands next to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, during a visit in Jerusalem's Old City February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Marc Sellem/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION TRAVEL)
Pope Francis touches the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 26, 2014. Pope Francis, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited on Monday Israel's "Memorial to the Victims of Terror", a day after praying at an Israeli security wall abhorred by Palestinians. REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)
Pope Francis and the Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch walk towards the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 26, 2014. Pope Francis, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited on Monday Israel's "Memorial to the Victims of Terror", a day after praying at an Israeli security wall abhorred by Palestinians. REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)
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The Palestinians have said the move would mean the "kiss of death" to the two-state solution.

The political benefits for Trump are unclear. The decision will thrill Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who make up a large share of his political base.

But it will complicate Trump's desire for a more stable Middle East and Israel-Palestinian peace and arouse tensions. Past presidents have put off such a move.

The mere hint of his decision to move the embassy in the future set off alarm bells around the Middle East, raising the prospect of violence.

"Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places," said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have in the past tried to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem to stoke anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiment.

'SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS'

The decision comes as Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a relatively quiet effort to restart long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.

"The president will reiterate how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time," one senior official said.

Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman to inform them of his decision.

The Jordanian king "affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike," said a statement from his office.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

"We have always regarded Jerusalem as a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions," United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

Trump has weighted U.S. policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world.

Still, deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense. Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.

Abbas warned Trump of the "dangerous consequences" that moving the embassy would have for peace efforts and regional stability, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

But Trump assured Abbas that he remained committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, one U.S. official said.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick and John Walcott in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and and Peter Cooney)

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