Palestinians Protest US Embassy Plan as Israelis Brace for Violence

December 6, 2017 10:31 pm Categorised in:

Advertisement

JERUSALEM — In Gaza City, Palestinians burned photos of President Trump, and in Jerusalem, Jews celebrated by lighting the walls of the Old City with the colors of the American and Israeli flags after Mr. Trump on Wednesday made good on his pledge to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

As Palestinian officials talked of cutting ties with the United States or ending security cooperation with Israel, Israeli government ministers and opposition leaders alike welcomed the American decision.

Ordinary Israelis and supporters of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, however, expressed fears that the move would ignite a new round of violence.

Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel’s leading daily newspapers, ran a photograph of Mr. Trump touching the ancient stones of the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site in the hotly contested Old City, under the blaring headline, “Trump Alert.” The article warned of a possible outbreak of violence as Israeli forces readied for protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In the Palestinian territories, Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions, whose internecine battles have often been bloody and politically debilitating, came together to urge a public venting of rage against Mr. Trump.

“These measures are a reward to Israel’s violations of international resolutions and an encouragement for Israel to continue its policy of occupation, settlements, apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said in a televised speech in Arabic, which was translated by Wafa, the Palestinian news agency.

Mr. Abbas called Mr. Trump’s actions “a deliberate undermining of all efforts to achieve peace, and is a declaration of the withdrawal of the United States from playing the role which it has played over the past decades as a peace broker.”

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, told Al Jazeera that Mr. Trump was making “an unaccountable gamble and an adventure that will not have a ceiling.” He called Mr. Trump’s announcement “the beginning of a time of horrific transformations across the region.”

Israeli border police patrolling the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday.CreditAtef Safadi/European Pressphoto Agency

In Gaza City, officials and residents wasted little time taking up the call to protest.

By noon on Wednesday, despite a downpour, hundreds of demonstrators burned American flags and posters bearing Mr. Trump’s photograph, in a protest at the Unknown Soldier Square downtown. Hamas and Islamic Jihad called on Arab and Islamic leaders to cut ties with the United States and to withdraw from peace talks with Israel.

“The ball of fire will roll until an intifada will break out,” warned Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, there were harsh words for Mr. Trump from Palestinians agitated at the idea that they were being forced into another period of conflict.

“We will never allow East Jerusalem to be taken away from us,” said a retired farmer who gave his name as Abu Malik, 54. “Trump is a crazy man who knows nothing about politics. I think he should go back to making WWF videos, rather than making these dangerous decisions that will only bring more headaches and bloodshed to our region.”

Maysa Hanoun, 20, a student at Al-Quds Open University, said she believed recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would set off a third intifada. “He really doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into,” she said of Mr. Trump. “The Palestinians will unite and raise hell.”

Palestinian officials were weighing whether to go so far as to cut off contact with the Trump administration, calling him so biased toward Israel that he had effectively disqualified himself from playing peacemaker.

“We were very close to receiving an offer for peace from the Americans,” Majdi Khaldi, an adviser to Mr. Abbas said in a telephone interview. “We want to be positive and to be partners to the U.S., and to all parties that want to make peace, but this act is making it very difficult to continue with business as usual. Really, we want to make a historic peace with the Israelis, but that is not the way.”

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose aides have boasted that they played a crucial role in coaxing Mr. Trump to his decision, made a last-minute appearance at a diplomatic conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning — but he did not mention recognition of the capital. Instead, he gave what seemed to be a highly caffeinated sales pitch about Israel’s recent diplomatic accomplishments elsewhere.

It was left to Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals and allies in Israel to assess Mr. Trump’s plans, and all welcomed it, regardless of their views on how to achieve peace.

Protesters burning Israeli and American flags in Gaza City on Wednesday.CreditMohammed Salem/Reuters

“Policies should not be dictated by threats and intimidation,” said Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a center-left opposition party. “If violence is the only argument against moving the embassy to Jerusalem, then it only proves it is the right thing to do.”

Avi Gabbay, the Labor party leader, congratulated Mr. Trump while hoping for “confidence-building measures which will reignite hope in the Middle East, and hope for a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians.”

But Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “shows that Israel’s strategic patience has paid off.”

“We have been told again and again that if we want more acceptance, we have to cut off parts of Israel and hand them over to our enemies,” he said, alluding to the land-for-peace approach to negotiations dating from the 1970s. “What we are learning is the contrary: The world respects strong countries who believe in themselves and looks down on countries willing to give up their homeland.”

Israelis overwhelmingly say they favor international recognition of Jerusalem as their capital, but they did not seem in a particular hurry before this week.

“I do agree with recognition, but this should have been done with a wide and clear understanding between all the sides,” said Alon Levi, 44, a manager for a chain of health food stores. “I am sorry to say I feel that a bomb is being thrown in order to divert from the real issues. I feel like this is an act resulting from the political interests of the leaders and is not in the interest of the two nations here, and peace.”

Other supporters of a two-state solution seized on Mr. Trump’s announcement as a dangerous accelerant in a region that has long been a tinderbox.

“Perhaps most toxic,” warned Ir Amim, an advocacy group in Jerusalem, was that Mr. Trump’s decision would embolden Israeli lawmakers who are pushing for legislation that would redraw the city’s boundaries and reshape its demographic balance, with the intention of making a two-state solution impossible.

“If Jerusalem is to be the capital of Israel alone,” Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs, told Israel’s Army Radio, “then we are on the way to a one-state solution.”

Follow David M. Halbfinger on Twitter: @halbfinger

Reporting was contributed by Isabel Kershner and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem, Ibrahim Elmoghrabi from Gaza City and Rami Nazzal from Ramallah.

Advertisement

 
 

Related posts