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Maryland reaction divided on Trump's Jerusalem move

When President Donald Trump announced that the United States would break long-standing tradition by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving its embassy there, he framed the decision as “the right thing to do” and “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

However, the reactions in Maryland were about as divided as those of the rest of the world.

Baltimore’s Jewish community is so diverse that it’s hard to generalize, but Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said it wasn’t hard to find many Jews who broadly supported Wednesday’s proclamations, if not all the details surrounding them.

Local Muslims and Palestinian activists, on the other hand, voiced astonishment and anger.

“It’s a reckless and dangerous move, and it’s one that doesn’t help anyone — not the Jews, not the Muslim world, not the United States,” said Zainab Chaudry, the director of Maryland outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “President Trump has once again put the United States on one side of an important issue and the rest of the world on the other. He has made a mockery of the U.S. role as a mediator for peace in the region.”

“It’s impossible to imagine any peace agreement that doesn’t include Jerusalem as a capital of the state of Israel, but beyond that, I don’t know where the borders should be or how the various parts would be controlled, for example,” Libit said. “It’s complicated. It has been complicated for decades. And like with all issues in the Middle East, there are as many different ways to look at it as there are people in the room.”

Around the world, Muslim and Palestinian leaders decried the moves, describing them as incendiary, counterproductive to the Middle East peace process and likely to spark violence.

On Thursday, more that 30 Palestinians were reported injured in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, among other places.

Chaudry, who lives in Baltimore, was part of a coalition of Muslim, interfaith and human rights leaders who held a news conference outside the White House on Wednesday, a gathering organized by American Muslims for Palestine, a national group based in Falls Church, Va.

The group is planning to hold a religious service and a demonstration for hundreds in the same spot at noon Friday, calling the event “D.C. Protest: Jerusalem is NOT the Capital of Israel.”

“It’s not even the role of the president of the United States of America to declare the capital of another country,” Chaudry said. “The grief, outrage and heartache being experienced not only by Palestinians, but by Muslims as well, is off the scale.”

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, which generally supports the state of Israel, agreed with Libit that Jerusalem should be considered the capital of Israel, pointing out that Congress passed a law more than 20 years ago — the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 — declaring that to be the case.

The measure also calls for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — and also contains language allowing presidents the option of waiving its implementation at six-month intervals.

Every president from Bill Clinton through Barack Obama has taken advantage of that provision, keeping it signed continuously, in six-month increments.

Unofficial policy — one supported by the international community — has been that the U.S. wouldn’t officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital until a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is reached.

Trump changed that Wednesday.

Trump directed the State Department to begin the process of moving the embassy as required by U.S. law, however many years that might take.

Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. would support a two-state solution — the creation of an independent Palestinian state that would exist peacefully alongside Israel — “if agreed to by both sides.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said such an outcome was possible if Trump approaches the situation diplomatically.

“I look forward to learning more about the administration’s plans for restarting direct negotiations for a just, sustainable two-state solution,” Cardin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

jonpitts@baltsun.com

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