Abbas says Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem ‘sinful’

Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press

Cairo – The Palestinian president on Wednesday again blasted Donald Trump in a fiery and emotional speech, saying the U.S. leader’s decision to recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was “sinful” and “ill-fated.”

Mahmoud Abbas, who has openly cursed Trump over his policies, told a conference in Egypt that the United States has disqualified itself from continuing as a broker in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a role America has had for decades.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he was certain the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem sometime this year, much sooner than Trump administration officials have estimated.

Netanyahu told Israeli reporters traveling with him in India that his “solid assessment” is that the American Embassy “will be moved far faster than what we think … in the course of the year.”

American officials have said it’s unlikely the embassy in Jerusalem would open before the end of Trump’s term in office.

A long-time opponent of violence, Abbas said the Palestinians “will continue to peacefully pursue our demands until we win back our rights.”

His comments at a conference on Jerusalem held in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, came ahead of a weekend visit to the region by Vice President Mike Pence, the most senior American official to visit the Middle East since Trump’s Jerusalem decision in December. Pence will visit Egypt, Jordan and Israel but won’t meet with Palestinians.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem will be a gate for peace only if it is Palestine’s capital, and it will be a gate of war, fear and the absence of security and stability, God forbid, if it is not,” Abbas said. “It’s the gate for peace and war and President Trump must choose between the two.”

Abbas was to meet later Wednesday with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Egypt is the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Jerusalem “is our eternal capital, to which we belong, just as it belongs to us,” said Abbas. He also renewed his call on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem, assuring would-be visitors that such visits would not amount to “normalization” with Israel.

“Visiting the prisoner does not mean normalization with the jailor,” he said.

“Don’t abandon us,” he pleaded, “Visits by Muslims, Arabs and Christians lend support to the city, amount to the protection of its holy sites and give support to its (Arab) residents.”

The Cairo conference was organized by Al-Azhar, the primary seat of learning for the world’s Sunni Muslims.

Earlier, Al-Azhar’s grand imam and Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, addressed the conference. Describing Trump’s Jerusalem decision as “unjust,” Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said it must be countered by a revival of awareness of the Palestinian question.

“We want this year, 2018, to be the year of Jerusalem, a year in which we offer moral and material support to the people of Jerusalem,” said al-Tayeb.

Tayeb and Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, have said they would not meet with Pence when he visits Cairo.