ROME — Pope Francis said, “I cannot remain silent.” The United Nations secretary-general spoke of his “great anxiety.” The European Union expressed “serious concern.” US allies like Britain, France, Germany and Italy all declared it a mistake.
A chorus of international leaders criticised the Trump administration’s decision Wednesday to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it a dangerous disruption that contravenes UN resolutions and could inflame one of the world’s thorniest conflicts.
Secretary-General António Guterres and Pope Francis both expressed alarm that the announcement would provoke new tensions in the Holy City, which is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Within minutes of Trump’s speech, in which he said the US Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Guterres delivered what amounted to a diplomatic rebuke.
Reading a statement outside the Security Council chambers at UN headquarters in New York, Guterres criticised “any unilateral measures that would jeopardise the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” underscoring the administration’s departure from decades of US policy.
“Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides,” Guterres said.
“In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: There is no alternative to the two-state solution,” he said. “There is no Plan B.”
In Rome, Francis prayed that Jerusalem’s status be preserved and needless conflict avoided.
“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days,” Francis said at his weekly general audience at the Vatican. “And at the same time, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
“Jerusalem is a unique city,” he said, “sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace.”
In especially strong language, the pope added, “I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, expressed concern about “the repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace.”
In a statement, she reiterated the bloc’s position that Jerusalem should be a future capital of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, and that embassies should not be moved there until the city’s final status was resolved. She cited a 1980 UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s attempted annexation of East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.
She called on actors in the region “to show calm and restraint in order to prevent any escalation.”
Within a few hours of Trump’s speech, eight countries on the 15-member Security Council — including some of America’s closest allies — requested an emergency meeting to be held before the end of the week. Diplomats said it would most likely be scheduled for Friday.
Joakim Vaverka, political coordinator of Sweden’s UN mission, said in a statement that the delegations of Bolivia, Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay had sought the meeting, including a briefing by Guterres, “in light of the statement today by the president of the United States regarding the status of Jerusalem.”
The warnings by the pope, the UN and the EU spoke to a broad fear that Trump’s announcement would be the death knell for an already moribund peace process and that it would pull the plug on a two-state solution.
Critics of the announcement said the change in policy removed any pretence that the United States is a neutral broker for peace. Palestinians and other Arabs in the region already view the Trump administration as leaning toward Israel’s right-wing government. The change in US policy “destroys the peace process,” said the Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah.
Some of the United States’ closest allies expressed apprehension.
Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain called Trump’s decision “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France, who was in Algeria on Wednesday meeting with the country’s president and other figures, said in a news conference that the decision by Trump was “regrettable” and that “France and Europe are committed to a two-state solution.” He called on all parties to refrain from violence.
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said through a spokesman that her government “does not support this position, because the status of Jerusalem is to be resolved in the framework of a two-state solution.”
Jason Horowitz/The New York Times