Christian leaders from within and outside of Jerusalem were among those who warned President Donald Trump about the potential repercussions of recognizing the city as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
But in an address from the White House on Wednesday, Trump went against the advice of world leaders, regional experts and religious groups to officially announce the policy change on the U.S. position on the status of Jerusalem.
Senior administration officials had confirmed the president’s intentions Tuesday evening. Just hours before Trump announced the decision on Wednesday, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea against doing anything to stir tension in the region.
“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days 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,” the pontiff said, according to The New York Times.
“Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace,” he said.
Francis said he was praying that “wisdom and prudence prevail” and that no announcement would add “new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
Jerusalem’s governance has long been disputed, and both Israelis and Palestinians consider the city their capital. Israel has de facto control of the city since seizing its eastern part from Jordan in 1967, but the international community has refused to recognize that authority.
The U.S. government has taken the stance that Israelis and Palestinians should determine the city’s status between themselves. Keeping the U.S. Embassy in the undisputed city of Tel Aviv has ensured that the U.S. wasn’t seen as taking a side on Jerusalem’s final status.
Trump had promised during his campaign and early presidency to make the policy change but deferred the decision when the six-month deadline arrived in June. (A 1995 U.S. law called for the embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem, but every president since has signed a waiver every six months to prevent the move.)
The decision will likely placate the Israeli government and conservative allies in the U.S. who have long held that Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the U.S. Embassy “needs to be” in Jerusalem.
But many religious leaders in Jerusalem feel differently. In a letter released to Trump on Wednesday, a group of 13 Christian patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem urged the president not to make any changes on the status of the city that could compromise the region’s tenuous peace.
“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division,” the Christian leaders wrote. “We ask from you Mr. President to help us all walk towards more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all.”
Already on Wednesday protests had erupted over the decision in the Palestinian cities of Gaza City and Rafah. People took to the streets chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel” and “Down with Trump.” Some protesters burned American and Israeli flags as well as photos of Trump. Palestinian and Islamic groups called for three days of “popular anger” against the president.
The patriarchs urged Trump “to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem.”