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Essential Washington

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington.

Legal impact of Trump's Jerusalem decision still murky

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Administration officials sought Thursday to clarify President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but raised more questions than they answered.

David Satterfield, acting assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs, said that although the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital, it has taken no position on what the contested city’s borders ultimately should be.

That would seem to leave open the possibility that part of the city could still belong to the Palestinians, as they have long claimed -- or not.

Satterfield said Trump’s decision would have no impact on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem.

Nor, he said, has the U.S. government decided to print passports or maps with the terminology “Jerusalem, Israel.”  Currently, such documents refer only to “Jerusalem,” without a country attached.

Asked repeatedly whether he could say categorically that Jerusalem was located in the country of Israel, Satterfield remained noncommittal. 

Trump on Wednesday reversed decades of U.S. policy by officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering the State Department to start the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv, a process the White House said would take several years.

Trump’s announcement provoked anger throughout the Arab world and disagreement by several major U.S. allies, including England and France.

Trump pointedly did not describe Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital,” as Israeli Jews routinely do. That too could leave room for maneuvering.

Trump argued in his speech Wednesday that moving the embassy reflected the reality in Israel and that it would not undermine his administration’s efforts to restart negotiations aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said that he was open to a two-state solution and that he was not taking a position on the boundaries of Jerusalem, a key sticking point in any negotiation because both sides claim the city. 

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