For the past seven weeks, protesters in and around Palestine have taken to the streets to demand their right to return to areas they were forcibly expelled from when the state of Israel was created. And on Monday, at least 60 protesters were killed by Israeli forces — the same day the United States officially moved its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
The city has served as a chaotic site of struggle for thousands of years, and the United States has long claimed to be an impartial mediator committed to building peace in the region — but any hopes of a compromise between Israel and Palestine were seemingly torn to shreds this week.
President Donald Trump officially announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December of 2017, when he announced his plan to move the U.S. Embassy — something Trump promised as part of his election campaign.
Many presidents before Trump could have moved the embassy under a 1995 law requiring the United States move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. But past presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, chose to issue waivers delaying action, citing national security interests. Obama warned against moving the embassy at his last press conference as president in January of 2017.
“When sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to some of the core issues and sensitivities of either side, that can be explosive,” he said.
Even if the move was meant as a step toward peace, as President Trump claims, the timing couldn’t be worse. The embassy was officially moved on Israel’s independence day, which is the day before Palestinian Nakba Day — a commemoration of Palestinians displaced from their homeland when the state of Israel was created May 15, 1948.
The Palestinian response to the move has been fueled by disbelief and anger. Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States, referred to it as “a blow to any prospects for peace.” Israeli groups in Israel have even protested the decision, with many left-wing activist groups taking to the streets of Jerusalem Saturday night.
The decision has also raised the ire of many Jewish Americans, like Rabbi Joseph Berman, government affairs manager for the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace. Berman described the move as rash and unethical.
“Trump’s immoral and irresponsible move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem desecrates the city, goes against international consensus and contributes to the ongoing occupation and displacement of Palestinians,” Berman said.
And if the decision to move the embassy wasn’t enough to indicate American bias, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended Israel’s response, which resulted in the deaths of several teenagers and at least one infant who inhaled tear gas. At an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, she denied that the violence in Gaza was related to the embassy move. Instead, she blamed the unrest on Iran-backed Hamas terrorists.
The U.N. itself has widely condemned the Trump administration’s decision to move the embassy. The General Assembly declared the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “null and void.” On Tuesday, the United States blocked a resolution calling for an investigation into the Palestinian deaths.
Countries have also independently come forward to condemn the move as dangerous to the peace process, including France, China, Britain and Italy. In disregarding the stance taken by the rest of the international community, the United States has further damaged the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The United States has long acted as a driving force in international efforts to stabilize Israel and Palestine’s relationship — and in the matter of a few short days, the Trump administration upset decades of work toward peace.