U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem on the Eve of the Nakba Anniversary

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

May 15, 2018

At least 58 Palestinians  were killed when Israeli troops fired on protesters  as the U.S. embassy opened its new location in Jerusalem. The embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was expected to stoke anger, but the timing of holding the opening ceremony on the 70thanniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, and one day before the Nakba – the “catastrophe,” the day Palestinians commemorate their being driven from their homes due to the founding of Israel – struck many as gratuitous and reckless incitement. While some Israeli observers saw the ceremony as a validation of their efforts to gain recognition of Jerusalem as their capital, most regional observers condemned both the original decision as well as this week’s opening ceremony. Given the ongoing protests and international furor, it is clear that the issue of the status of Jerusalem remains a flashpoint, regardless of unilateral actions on the part of the United States.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth leads with an op-ed by Yael Patir, who suspects that the real motivation for President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move lies in firming up his support with the evangelical community in the United States: “a majority of more than 80 percent of U.S. Jews support the two-state solution and that about 80 percent are against moving the embassy to Jerusalem in general, or without making significant progress in the peace process…. Sometimes, it seems like the main political interest dictating Trump’s conduct in the Middle East isn’t the Jewish vote but rather the evangelical vote of the settlements’ Christian supporters who are affiliated with the radical right-wing camp in the U.S. and in Israel. They are the ones the president is appealing to by moving the embassy or ‘taking Jerusalem off the negotiating table.’ They are the ones applauding him, while most U.S. Jews understand the disastrous consequences this policy is likely to have on the entire region and especially on Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post, one of the main Israeli dailies, presents the Nakba and the U.S. embassy move as realities that the Palestinians need to accept: “We can also agree that May 15, 1948, was a catastrophe. Where we disagree is why. It is a catastrophe because of what might have been…. It is within the power of the Palestinians to move forward, and the time is now. What appears to them to be a one-sided maneuver by the president of the United States – to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move that country’s embassy there — is not one-sided – it is the reality. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. If you accept that Israel exists – that Israel is a state – then you have to accept Jerusalem as its capital…. No one is going back to 1948. Once Palestinians stop believing that, the ‘Nakba’ will start to come to an end and we can move forward.”

However, there are few Palestinians who are willing to make unilateral concessions, especially when it comes to an issue as important as Jerusalem. Diana Buttu, in an op-ed written for Haaretz News, calls for building a united front against Israel’s abuse of Palestinian rights that probably won’t include the United States: “It is easy for Israel to celebrate. It’s gotten what it wants: land, international recognition, a quisling Palestinian leadership that maintains security for Israel and barely a whisper of condemnation from world powers…. After years of U.S. coddling, I am under no illusions that the Trump administration, which openly supports Israel’s alt-right government, will do anything. Rather, the change will come only after the rest of the world – whether through the BDS movement or otherwise – makes clear to Israel (and the U.S.) that it will no longer tolerate apartheid.” 

The Tehran Times reports on the Iranian government’s frustration at Trump’s policies – no doubt fueled partially by anger at the U.S. abandonment of the JCPOA nuclear deal: “’Trump has turned into [a] symbol of chaos and violence-seeking at the international scene through strategic mistakes he made in supporting terrorism, pulling out of the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people’, [Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali] Shamkhani stated that the U.S. move will boost the Muslims’ will to defend the cause of Palestine. ‘The first consequence of this catastrophic move is more unity and integrity among Muslims to defend their sanctities and also a speed in the collapse of the fake Zionist regime of Israel’, the top security official predicted. He added that the U.S. and Israel are responsible for all the consequences.”

Characterizing the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as a “time bomb,” Hurriyet Daily News(Turkey) analyst Yusuf Kanli warned about the possibility of a wider conflict, beyond Israel and Palestine: “the transfer of the U.S. Embassy will open a new chapter, not only in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I am afraid it will lead to a new episode of a clash of civilizations. A time bomb is being placed in the heart of the international community…. Turkey and other countries of this region must handle this delicate issue with the utmost care in full awareness of the odd ‘fight fire with fire’ or ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ mentality. There is need for moderation, cool headed evaluation and damage control before taking any further action that may exacerbate the already explosive situation not only in the Middle East but also in Turkish-American relations.”

In the UAE, the National’s staff suggests in a recent editorial that, if anything, these recent developments underline the urgency of finding a long-term solution, rather than coming up with temporary fixes: “Any hope of real change and of a two-state solution to the conflict was all but shattered yesterday when the U.S. embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem…. A peaceful resolution has rarely looked more remote. Successive U.S. administrations have insisted that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would present a security threat and undermine the U.S.’s role as an honest broker; instead, Mr. Trump has given Israel license to occupy Jerusalem. It is in the interests of Israelis as much as Palestinians to find a peaceful path for co-existence. Without it, there can only be more bloodshed and violence…. It is not yet clear how this peace will come about with the current developments but it is imperative to find a path to it.”

Finally, writing for Arab News, Baria Alamuddin underscores both the religious importance of Jerusalem as well as its refusal to be reduced to a one-dimensional issue by reminding both the U.S. and the Israeli administrations that feelings of attachment to the city are unlikely to be extinguished by unilateral decisions: “Seventy years after the events known as the Nakba, the current U.S. administration’s attempts to unilaterally enforce the status of Jerusalem are a reminder that the legacy of this catastrophe are still with us…. Do Washington and Tel Aviv assume that their botched attempt to impose Jerusalem’s annexation upon the world will cause Palestinians, Muslims and various denominations of Christians to miraculously forget their sacred attachment to this city? Seventy years of dispossession only made Palestinians more attached to Jerusalem. They may not feel so differently 1,000 years from now…. Jerusalem has never been and never will be reducible to a single agenda, faith or ethnicity.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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