On a cool, rainy Wednesday night in central Jerusalem, the streets were oddly quiet. Even the area in front of the U.S. consulate was largely devoid of protesters. But that was before President Donald Trump announced formally that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
As soon as the policy was announced, Palestinian leaders renewed earlier calls for mass demonstrations to protest against Mr. Trump’s decision, and the Israeli military made preparations for Thursday that will likely include street closings in central Jerusalem.
The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the capital of their future state, while Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Mr. Trump’s announcement a welcome “historic decision” and an important step toward peace because “there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
The Palestinian reaction, and the reaction of allies and sympathizers in the Muslim world – Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt among them – was one of disappointment and anger. All condemned Mr. Trump’s decision.
Speaking on the BBC, Mustafa Barghouti, a senior Palestinian politician who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called Mr. Trump’s announcement “a Zionist speech” that effectively killed the peace process. He urged Palestinians to take to the streets in protest. “I encourage this very much,” he said, but stressed that he wanted “peaceful demonstrations,” not violence.
Palestinian leaders have called for “three days of rage.”
Ismail Radwan, an official with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that governs Gaza, told reporters: “This decision opens the gates of hell on U.S. interests in the region.”
Abed Mustapha, a young Israeli Arab who was born in Jerusalem and works as a chauffeur, said he was “bewildered” by Mr. Trump’s decision. “Why now, and how does this make the peace process better, as he said it would?”
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Trump said he judged “this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Even though Mr. Trump did not rule out a settlement in which East Jerusalem would emerge as the sovereign capital of a Palestinian state, Palestinians said they considered the new policy, which means the U.S. embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in three or four years, once a new building is constructed, a grave blow to the peace process (the Canadian government has said it intends to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv).
A leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has “disqualified the United States of America to play any role in the peace process.”
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said Mr. Trump’s decision had ended the key position of the United States as leading sponsor of the peace talks. “These reprehensible and rejected measures constitute a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts,” he said.
Mr. Barghouti had a similar message. “[Mr. Trump] has just aborted his own peace process before it was born. We will not accept what he did. This is not a small thing – this is Jerusalem. … They are playing with fire.”
Jews, Muslims and Christians consider Jerusalem one of their holiest sites. In 1947, the United Nations left Jerusalem out of the plan to divide Palestine into two states, an Arab one, and a Jewish one that would become Israel. A year later, Israel annexed West Jerusalem and declared the ancient city its capital. Jordan then annexed East Jerusalem. After the 1967 war, Israel took control of all of Jerusalem.
Since then, most countries have not recognized the disputed city as Israel’s capital, and no country has its embassy there; all are in Tel Aviv, although many countries have consulates in Jerusalem.
While Jerusalem seemed peaceful on Wednesday night after Mr. Trump’s announcement, protests broke out in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Thousands of Gazans gathered on the Gaza strip and some of them burned Israeli and U.S. flags while chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel.”
Jordanian members of Parliament staged a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Amman, and several hundred protesters gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. They arrived as Turkey’s foreign ministry called on the Trump administration “to reconsider this faulty decision which may result in highly negative outcomes and to avoid uncalculated steps that will harm the multicultural identity and historical status of Jerusalem.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said the Turkish leader is inviting leaders of member states of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation to a meeting next week to discuss Jerusalem’s status. But it was not immediately clear what the OIC could accomplish, especially since Muslims in the Middle East are divided. Iran and Saudi Arabia are archrivals, each trying to spread their influence across the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia are informally aligned in their opposition to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed political and military group in Lebanon.
As Jerusalem girded for possible mass protests on Thursday, the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv warned Americans that protests “have the potential to become violent” and to use caution. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was preparing for potential Palestinian backlash.
The Globe and Mail, December 6, 2017