Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his security chiefs to be prepared for possible violent protests across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in the event that incoming US President Donald Trump announces the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, Netanyhau and other ministers met officials from the army, police and Shin Bet security service at a meeting earlier this week and instructed them to complete their preparations in time for Friday’s inauguration ceremony in Washington.
A press spokesperson for Trump said on Thursday that an announcement on moving the embassy from Tel Aviv was “coming soon” and urged journalists to “stay tuned”, prompting speculation that the new president could formalise the decision at any moment after he assumes office.
The anticipated move has already prompted protests in the West Bank, with hundreds participating in demonstrations in several cities on Thursday.
In Ramallah, dozens gathered around Al-Manara square during a protest called by the "the Palestinian National Committee against US policy".
Protesters raised the Palestinian flag and put up many slogans like “Trump, take your racism away from the Holy City”, “Our dignity is non-negotiable.. Do not touch Jerusalem,” and “the whole world is moving forward but the Trump administration is moving backwards.”
Similar slogans were put up by hundreds of people who came out in a protest in the city of Nablus, where they waved Palestinian flags and photos of victims of Israeli violence in response to a call by the factional coordination committee.
Haaretz said that Netanyahu and other officials had not been informed when the announcement would come, although Netanyahu had spoken several times to Trump since his election victory in November.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the Palestinians would not react violently if the embassy was moved but would protest using diplomatic and legal means.
Abbas has also written to Trump warning him that moving the embassy would have a devastating effect on the peace process, while Arab states have expressed similar concerns.
John Kerry, the outgoing US Secretary of State, told US media that moving the embassy could lead to an “absolute explosion” in the Middle East.
"You'd have an explosion," he told the CBS network. "You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al Sharif, as it is called, the Temple Mount, the Dome [of the Rock], and it is a holy site for the Arab world."
Kerry said that moving the embassy involved issues of sovereignty and law that would have a “profound impact on readiness of Jordan and Egypt to be able to be as supportive and engaged with Israel as they are today”.
Trump is expected to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, as an Israeli-Palestinian peace envoy.
At a speech for campaign donors on Thursday night, Trump told Kushner: “If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can."
Trump has also invited representatives of the illegal West Bank settlement movement to attend Friday’s inauguration ceremony.
The Palestinians regard Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, but Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.
Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967. It later annexed East Jerusalem, in a move never recognised as legal by the international community.
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