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Pittsburgh-area religious leaders fret over Trump's Jerusalem decision

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 5:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh-area religious groups expressed concern Wednesday over a controversial move by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump declared in a speech Wednesday that it is in the United States' best interests to end an approach that has failed to broker peace, despite worldwide warnings of the possibility of protests and violence.

“Personally, it is hard to understand the logic behind this move,” said Wasi Mohamed, director of Emgage Pennsylvania. “It would irreversibly damage the United States' ability to broker any future peace agreements between Palestine and Israel.”

Emgage Pennsylvania is a nonprofit aimed at building political awareness for Muslim Americans.

Josh Sayles, director of community relations with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said the move is concerning.

“I think it is incredibly important that President Trump noted that the U.S. continues to support a two-state solution” and the move is not meant to stop peace talks, Sayles said. “We are concerned about potential violence from the Palestinian community; hopefully that is just a concern and won't be a reality.”

Pope Francis expressed alarm at the decision.

“I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts,” he said.

Trump in the speech endorsed the concept of a “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians, provided both sides agree to it.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said in a White House address. He said recognition acknowledged the “obvious,” that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel's government despite the disputed status that is one of the key elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is nothing more or less than the recognition of reality,” Trump said.

He directed that the State Department begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as required by U.S. law. Officials said, however, that the move will take years to complete.

Ahead of Trump's speech, Arab and Muslim leaders issued warnings about the potential for violence over the decision. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags, the Associated Press reported. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their “eternal capital,” language that Israelis similarly use for their nation.

“President Trump is alone in his ‘recognition' of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the status of which should be reached because of negotiations rather than political pandering,” Mohamed said. “Leaders and citizens from around the world will condemn the U.S. for detracting from the peace process.”

The Associated Press contributed. Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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