Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has long been discussed. On Monday it became reality, along with sharp divides over what such a move means both to the region and the United States role in ever-elusive Middle East peace. Those that predicted that such a move would be accompanied with violence, were tragically not disappointed.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, and with deadly protests occurring less than 50 miles away, the Trump administration opened the new American embassy in Jerusalem Monday. During an elaborate dedication ceremony, Trump addressed a small crowd via taped video message, saying that the opening had been “a long time coming.”
“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government, the home of the Israeli legislature and the Israeli Supreme Court and Israel’s prime minister and president,” he said. “For many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious … the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israeli David Friedman, as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump also gave remarks.
The controversial move fulfilled a promise by Trump to bring the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, having already recognized the disputed city as Israel’s capital.The decision has delighted the Israeli government but angered the Palestinians, as well as concerning some Western allies who say it will further destabilize the region and hamper the peace process.
Trump, however, maintained that his “greatest hope is for peace” and that the U.S. “remained committd to facilitating a lasting agreement.”
President Trump, who was not present, instead made remarks by video:
WATCH: Audience at US Embassy opening in Jerusalem watches a message from President Trump pic.twitter.com/Bn8FkHWEgQ
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 14, 2018
But on the Gaza border, the on-going “Great March of Return” took an even more violent turn, with 40+ reportedly killed. BBC:
Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres. The Hamas-run health ministry said children were among those killed on Monday.The mass demonstrations, led by Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, are part of a six-week protest dubbed the “Great March of Return”.
Israel’s army said 35,000 Palestinians were taking part in “violent riots” along the security fence and that its troops were operating “in accordance with standard procedures”. Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.
The Israeli military said it had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. It said aircraft had also “targeted Hamas military posts near the Jabalia area after troops were fired upon”.
There have also been violent clashes between Israeli police and protesters who raised Palestinian flags outside the new embassy. Several protesters were detained.
Palestinians have held weekly protests in the run-up to their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of their people fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.
Scores of Palestinians have been killed since the protests began. Thousands more have been wounded.
Hamas, which is in a state of conflict with Israel, had said it would step up protests in the lead-up to Tuesday, the official Nakba commemoration.
Hundreds of people have been injured, according to Palestinian officials
It says it wants to draw attention to what Palestinians insist is their right to return to ancestral homes in what became Israel.”Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” a science teacher in Gaza, Ali, told Reuters news agency.
Sky News tweeted a split screen that is widely found in media today, appropriate to the complex issues of the region:
Ivanka Trump unveils the seal on the side of the US embassy in Jerusalem as violent protests continue in Gaza pic.twitter.com/xYgu1rz7Hz
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 14, 2018
Israel’s Arab neighbors continue to denounce the move, even now that it is completed:
The Arab League will hold emergency talks Wednesday to discuss Washington’s “illegal” decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a senior official said.
The meeting will focus on “ways of countering the illegal decision by the United States to move the embassy to Jerusalem”, the organization’s deputy secretary general for Palestinian affairs, Saeed Abu Ali, said. He told reporters the permanent representatives of members of the Cairo-based Arab League would meet “at the request of the state of Palestine”.
Jordan denounced the embassy move as a “clear violation” of the UN charter. In a statement, it also “condemned” a unilateral decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite Palestinian claims to part of the disputed city.
Jordan is the only other Arab country besides Egypt to have ties with Israel, and it is also the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
The status of the holy city — home also to Christian and Jewish shrines — is perhaps the thorniest issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
While such a response was predictable, the moving of the embassy was anything but. Though long a talking point, and a frequently heralded position by US Presidents, taking no action had become the norm, with many speculating an avoidance of just such a violent reaction being the motivation.
“Jerusalem is a symbolic, emotional and real issue,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and president of the Israel Institute. “It matters to many Israeli Jews because it would indicate that the United States actually recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which now it effectively does not.”
Which is why Arabs object so strenuously to such a move. “This is a sign that he’s going to side with Israel,” said Mustafa Alani, a scholar at the Gulf Research Center, a research organization with offices in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. “If he does it, it’s going to be a wrong start for his relationship with the Arab world.”
The status of Jerusalem has always been one of the thorniest issues dividing Jews and Arabs. In 1947, the United Nations recommended that the city be declared a “corpus separatum,” meaning an international city, rather than incorporated into either the Arab or the Jewish states then being contemplated on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But in the war that followed its declaration of statehood in 1948, Israel captured the western portion of the city while Jordan seized the east.
Israel took control of East Jerusalem in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors and annexed it, declaring that the city would remain whole and unified as its eternal capital (and later building many settlements there that most of the world considers illegal). The United States and most other countries refused to recognize the annexation and kept their embassies in or near Tel Aviv. The last two countries with embassies in Jerusalem, Costa Rica and El Salvador, moved out a decade ago.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised during their presidential campaigns to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Both later backed away from those promises, convinced by Middle East experts that doing so would prejudge negotiations for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 1995, Congress passed a law declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and requiring the embassy be moved there by 1999 — or else the State Department building budget would be cut in half. But the law included a provision allowing presidents to waive its requirement for six months if they determined it was in the national interest. So every six months, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and eventually President Obama signed such waivers, fearing a violent response in the Arab world if the embassy moved.
“Every president who reversed his campaign promise did so because he decided not to take the risk,” said Dennis B. Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy who advised multiple presidents, including Mr. Obama. “Jerusalem has historically been an issue that provoked great passions — often as a result of false claims — that did trigger violence.”
Rather than an end, this current chapter in the Israel-Palestinian saga very much feels firmly in the middle of the story. An historic day, but it remains to be seen how much change will really come from it.
What say you? Login and comment: