The US Embassy in Jerusalem: For What Purpose?

An American embassy hasn’t been the source of this much ire since 1979. While the opening of an embassy is usually a stolid diplomatic occasion, filled with polite goodwill and handshakes between dignitaries, the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem was anything but. At best contentious and at worst (and it was indeed one of the worst things to happen to Palestine in a long string of bad things) incendiary, dangerous and pointless, the embassy move was a slap in the face to all Palestinians, particularly those just a few miles way protesting in what is being called the “Great March of Return.” In short, the embassy opening was a political, diplomatic and security disaster and it begs the question: what good does it achieve?

npr palestinian flags
Palestinian flags attached to balloons by Gazans. Photo sourced from NPR h

 

The United States passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act over 20 years ago, which called for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet the Act was not fulfilled until President Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise of “moving the [US] embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people” (Israel claims that Jerusalem is its capital) and finally had the embassy moved on May 14th, the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. While it may have been a “great day for Israel,” as Trump tweeted, the decision has drawn protests from Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem is the capital of any future Palestinian state. Anger over the new embassy has helped fuel the “Great March of Return” protests in the Gaza strip, where Palestinians have been gathering along the Israel-Gaza border fence to demand the right for all refugees to return to their land.

The moving of the embassy may have helped further cement Israeli-US relations, but that appears to be all that it has achieved. From a diplomatic standpoint, it has tarnished the US status as a peacebroker for the Palestine Question: how can Palestine trust the US when the country has only helped solidify Israel’s claims to legitimacy? The US can no longer be seen as a neutral player (although to be fair, it was already pretty obvious which side America chose).

The new embassy helps to further emphasize the unprofessionalism of the Trump administration. Who did he send in his place to attend? Besides a Deputy Secretary of State, many of the notable attendees had neither state department experience nor any Middle East expertise. One uniting factor was their Jewishness, at least in the case of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Advisor Jared Kushner, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. What do senators Ted Cruz and Lesley Graham really know of Middle Eastern politics?

The moving of the embassy has caused backlash and tension with other countries, who have criticized the move, stating that it harms the two-state solution. The move is indeed a black eye for the two-state solution as the US is one of the key players in the peace process. Legitimizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel undermines the idea of a Palestinian state and any hope for return to ancestral Palestinian lands. By stating that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the US erases the Palestinian past and future. After all, how can two states lay claim to the same city as their capital?

French President Emmanuel Macron recently commented that “we should avoid escalating the tension in the region.” While the move may not stir other Arab governments into action, it will certainly fan unrest in the Palestinian territories–and among those who fervently disagree with Israel and the US. Following Trump’s announcemnt that the embassy would move, several rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, which resulted in Israeli fire and two deaths. It is more than a tad ironic, then, that Trump stated “May there be peace,” in a video played for the audience that gathered at the embassy at the opening.

Indeed, the new US embassy has so far brought nothing but bloodshed and protests. On opening day, almost 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces at the Gaza fence and thousands were injured. The lives of Palestinians are at risk. Their basic human rights and dignity are at risk more than ever. Over 1,000 policemen were deployed on opening day to ensure the security of the area around the embassy. Deploying over 1,000 policemen to secure an area does not sound like a peaceful situation, and it brings into question why Trump would want to potentially put the lives of American embassy workers in danger.

The opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem achieves nothing but a set back to the peace process in the Middle East. Will Palestine choose a different proposed capital? Will it be willing to negotiate with America at the table? Will other countries feel pressure to move their embassies? Where does the peace process go from here? Where is the point of return?

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