KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump today reversed a decades-long policy on the Middle East.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today we finally acknowledge the obvious - that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.
MCEVERS: But Palestinians also say Jerusalem - or at least part of it - is their capital. And up until now, the policy in the U.S. and most of the world has been that the city's status should be resolved in peace talks between the two sides. World figures from the pope to the secretary general of the United Nations say they are concerned about the move. And the State Department says it is preparing for protests around the region. Now we will go to the city that everyone is talking about. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem, and he's on the line now. Hi there.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey.
MCEVERS: So why did the president say he was doing this?
ESTRIN: Well, he said old challenges demand new approaches. And he said for over 20 years, U.S. presidents have delayed relocating the embassy to Jerusalem because they believed that delaying that and delaying recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would advance peace. But he said we're still no closer to peace. And if you keep repeating the same formula, you don't get any different or a better result. He said this was nothing more than a recognition of reality.
You know, Israel's Parliament is in Jerusalem. Israel's Supreme Court is there - prime minister. They're all here in Jerusalem. And Israel, Trump said, has the right to determine its own capital. And he also said something very clearly. This does not mean the U.S. is taking a position on contested issues about the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. And that would be determined in peace talks.
MCEVERS: And given that, you know, the Parliament's there, as you said, some might see this move as symbolic only. It's just a recognition. Why are people saying that it could be so significant or even dangerous for efforts to make peace?
ESTRIN: Well, no country has its embassy in Jerusalem because Israel and the Palestinians both have claims to this city. This is probably the most delicate issue of the conflict between the two sides. You know, who gets to have a capital in Jerusalem? It's an emotional issue. We're talking about a city sacred to millions and millions of people around the world - Christians, Muslims, Jews.
And countries have said for many years having an embassy in Israel in this city of Jerusalem would be seen as taking sides. It reverses more than 20 years of policy by both Democratic and Republican presidents. It's an emotionally charged geopolitical issue. And so we're going to see what the consequences are.
MCEVERS: What are Israelis saying about it?
ESTRIN: Well, first of all, the city of Jerusalem has been - the Old City of Jerusalem has been lit up. One of its walls is lit up with images of the red, white and blue American flag. The mayor says it's a day of celebration. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this was a courageous decision. Jerusalem has been the focus of Jew's prayers for thousands of years. And there would be no peace without Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But walking around Jerusalem today, you know, Israel's a very diverse society. People had different reactions. One woman I spoke to, Leah Schiff, said she was concerned about a possibility of violence.
LEAH SCHIFF: I think it's right idea because Jerusalem is the capital. But I think it should be many years before because now it could be dangerous.
MCEVERS: It's the right idea, she says, but it could be dangerous. What are Palestinians saying?
ESTRIN: Well, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said it's a declaration that the U.S. is withdrawing from being a sponsor of the peace process. The Palestinian leadership is now going to be meeting to decide its next steps. And out on the streets today in East Jerusalem, Palestinians I spoke to had different kinds of reactions. Some didn't see really how this changed anything. And I met one man, 72-year-old Omar Darwish, who thinks this will spark protests. Here's what he said.
OMAR DARWISH: It's very bad. We are under occupation here. Jerusalem is under occupation. Not help to peace - he said that, but it's not help to peace.
ESTRIN: Not helping peace, he said. You know, he said Palestinians are under occupation in Jerusalem. Basically what he's saying is Palestinians don't recognize the legitimacy of Israel's control of the east side of the city where Palestinians live.
MCEVERS: OK. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, thank you.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.