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Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 14:00
Moving US embassy to Jerusalem aggravates Mideast chaos
By Xinhua
Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 14:00 By Xinhua

Palestinian protesters run from gas fired by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip Border, May 15, 2018. Israel faced a growing backlash Tuesday and new charges of using excessive force, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed dozens of Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza. (ARIEL SCHALIT / AP)

JERUSALEM – Many Israelis and Americans celebrated the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem Monday despite international criticism. In stark contrast to the festive mood in the city, dozens of Palestinians were killed on the border with Gaza in clashes with Israeli forces while protesting the opening of the embassy.

As the holy sites to three religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Jerusalem is a highly contested city at the heart of not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem after recognizing the city as the capital of Israel paves the way for the imposture of Israel's solutions to the conflict. 

Hani al-Masri, Director General, Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War. Before that, it made the western part of the city its capital. In 1980, Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem, a move condemned widely by the world, which has not recognized its sovereignty over both parts of the city till today

For Palestinians, East Jerusalem is the capital of their future state.


Throughout his presidential campaign, US President Donald Trump promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. 

It was a promise made by many candidates before, yet it was never delivered upon. But on Dec 6 last year, Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

For the international community, it was a sharp departure from decades of American and international policy based on the premise that Jerusalem's status should be determined during negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

READ MORE: Calls for investigation, but no consensus at UN Gaza meeting

The US move is another phase in the elongated conflict in which facts on the ground are constantly shifting. 

The European Union ambassadors to Israel did not attend the ceremony in Jerusalem Monday to protest the decision.

In this May 14, 2018 file photo, Palestinians carry the body of Mousab Abu Leila, 29, during his funeral after he was killed during a protest on the border with Israel, in Gaza City. (DUSAN VRANIC / AP)

"It's a very problematic move," said Professor Naomi Chazan with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "The message it emits is very clear ...more facts can be made on the ground without any sensitivity to Palestinian interests and rights." 

Up until now, the US embassy was located in Tel Aviv, Israel's financial capital. Almost all other foreign embassies are located there.

The timing of the transition from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was moved forward to coincide with Israel's 70th Independence Day. What was once the US consulate in the city has been upgraded and will function as the embassy in the interim period. A new and larger venue is expected to be bought and completed in the coming years.

Several Latin American countries and a few European countries are expected to follow suit, but most embassies will stay in Tel Aviv, highlighting the isolated position Israel and the US are in. 

Left wing Israelis hold signs during a demonstration against the situation in Gaza in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 15, 2018. (SEBASTIAN SCHEINER / AP)

But the significance of the move should not be underestimated. 

"Never underestimate the power of symbolism," Chazan told Xinhua. "It changes the discourse and ... inevitably affects the future of negotiations and possible outcomes. It also affects ... the nature of resistance." 


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have not met in four years, with the peace process frozen. 

In the immediate future, the embassy move is not expected to defrost the situation. Yet Trump believes the opposite is true.

After his December announcement, Trump said the contentious issue had now been taken "off the table" and would pave the way for renewed dialogue.

For now, Palestinian officials are refusing to meet with American officials. 

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces after a rally to mark the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call their "nakba," or catastrophe — the uprooting of hundreds of thousands in the Mideast war over Israel's 1948 creation, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 15, 2018. (MAJDI MOHAMMED / AP)

Perhaps the prize that Israel has received in the form of the much coveted recognition of Jerusalem as its capital will come at a heavy price for the right-wing government currently in power. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may now be asked to make some major concessions to the Palestinians. These could be, for example, in the form of a freeze on settlement building. 

ALSO READ: Non-implementation of Mideast resolution upsets two-thirds of UNSC

But chances for the resumption of negotiations seem slim. 

"Moving the embassy to Jerusalem after recognizing the city as the capital of Israel paves the way for the imposture of Israel's solutions to the conflict," said Hani al-Masri, director general of Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies. 

Americans may have lost their position as an honest broker between the two sides. 

Left wing Israelis hold signs during a demonstration against the situation in Gaza in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 15, 2018. (SEBASTIAN SCHEINER / AP)

"There is no mutual point of understanding, the embassy issue ... forces the Palestinians to become more realistic but that will take some time," Gerald Steinberg, a professor who specializes in politics and Middle Eastern affairs, and Israel, US and Europe relations at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Xinhua. 


In keeping with the contradictions that define the region, TV broadcasts around the world showed split screens during the inauguration ceremony. 

While Netanyahu was celebrating in Jerusalem, the other side of the screen showed large billows of smoke rising in the Gaza skyline.

The death toll from violent clash with Israeli forces keeps rising, with at least 61 Palestinians killed and about 2,800 injured in the Gaza Strip. There was worldwide condemnation of events on the border, with accusations that the Israeli military had used excessive force.

Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, but still retains control of its air and maritime space. 

Together with Egypt, it maintains a strict blockade on the territory since 2007, when Hamas wrested power from the more moderate Palestinian faction, the Fatah.

A protester holds a placard reading "Gaza: Your silence kills" during a demonstration, in Paris, May 15, 2018. France has condemned violence after Israeli soldiers shot and killed dozens of Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday. (THIBAULT CAMUS / AP)

Funerals for Gaza's dead will probably fuel further protest.

Hamada Faraana, a Palestinian news analyst and author, believes the region can expect an upsurge in violence. "Waves of popular Palestinian protests are expected to escalate in light of understandings between the Palestinian factions on the need to confront the US step on Jerusalem in all possible ways.” 

So far, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have remained relatively calm. 

The Israeli government last week rejoiced at the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear plan. 

Israeli air force planes conducted a strike on alleged Iranian military positions in neighboring Syria.

Chazan told Xinhua that the Israelis gloating may lead to more friction with the Palestinians, a scenario which could get out of hand.

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