Palestinians view U.S. embassy move as pro-Israel bias
Jerusalem – Israel on Sunday kicked off festivities to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, even as it bolstered its forces along the Gaza border and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests of the move.
A day before the embassy’s formal opening, Israel hosted a gala party at its Foreign Ministry with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and other American VIPs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “bold decision” in upending decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It’s the right thing to do,” a smiling Netanyahu told the jubilant crowd.
But Monday’s embassy , cheered by Israelis as a historic validation, is seen by Palestinians as an in-your-face affirmation of pro-Israel bias by Trump and a new blow to dreams of statehood.
The festive inauguration helps harden Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of Washington as a future mediator in the conflict with Israel, likely ushering in a prolonged period of diplomatic vacuum in which other powers are unwilling or unable to step up as brokers.
Such paralysis and loss of hope have been major drivers of Palestinian unrest.
Underscoring the conflict’s volatility, thousands of Gaza residents plan to march Monday toward Israel’s border and possibly breach it in an attempt to break a decade-old blockade of their territory. Israel has vowed to stop any breach by force, raising the possibility of major bloodshed at a time when Trump’s daughter and son-in-law preside over the embassy ceremony just 45 miles away.
Tel Aviv is the customary base for foreign embassies in Israel, with the U.S. and other countries having avoided Jerusalem because of its contested status. Over the years, a few countries set up embassies in Jerusalem and then left it again. From 2006 until this week, the city didn’t host a single foreign embassy.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. It annexed the eastern sector to its previously declared capital in the western part of the city, a move not recognized at the time by the U.S. and most other nations.
The fate of the city has been a central issue in years of intermittent U.S.-brokered negotiations. Netanyahu, taking a harder line than two predecessors, has said he won’t give up any part of Jerusalem, home to 883,000 people, 38 percent of them Palestinians. Abbas wants east Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state that would include the other war-won territories.
In December, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he was simply acknowledging reality, while omitting any mention of Palestinian claims to the city. Trump said at the time he is not taking a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty that are to be determined in negotiations. But just a month later Trump told Netanyahu he had taken Jerusalem “off the table” and that “we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
Abbas, who for years had banked on the U.S. to persuade Israel to cede land for a Palestinian state, felt betrayed and halted contacts with the Trump administration.
Abbas recently laid out conditions for coming back to the table that – based on Trump’s past statements – seem unlikely to be met. Abbas says the U.S. must explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize east Jerusalem in principle as a Palestinian capital and allow other powers to join as mediators.
In the meantime, Abbas vows to reject any U.S. proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, arguing that there’s nothing to talk about because of the U.S. policy shift on Jerusalem and its failure to rein in Israeli settlement expansion on lands sought for a Palestinian state.
“We will not accept the deal,” Abbas told a PLO convention two weeks ago, referring to the plan reportedly being prepared by Trump’s Kushner-led Mideast team.
It’s unclear when or if the U.S. plan will be released. No details of the proposal have been confirmed, though Palestinian officials, citing information from Saudi intermediaries, suspect it’s an offer for a Gaza-based mini-state with parts of the West Bank and a small foothold in Jerusalem.
Both the embassy move and the protests have symbolic timing. Trump has said the opening is meant to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment. The Palestinian protests also mark the date as the anniversary of their “naqba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of people fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding the event. About two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinian refugees.
A mass border breach could trigger potentially lethal Israeli force. Forty-two Palestinians have been killed and over 1,800 have been wounded by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began on March 30. The U.N., European Union and rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force against unarmed protesters.
Israel says it is protecting a sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the unrest to plan and carry out attacks. Marchers have thrown stones and burned tires at the fence and flown flaming kites over it to try to set Israeli fields on fire.
On Friday, a Palestinian crowd attacked the main cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza, disrupting shipments of cooking fuel, gasoline and building materials, and causing millions of dollars in damage. Israeli officials said it could take weeks or months to repair the crossing.
“Unfortunately, the crossing is closed today and will remain closed until the foreseeable future due to severe damage caused by Palestinian rioters,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman. “It is still unclear how long it will take to fix and replace the necessary parts.”
The Israeli military announced that it bolstered forces on the Gaza border with combat battalions, special units, intelligence forces and snipers. Israeli warplanes also dropped leaflets in Gaza, urging residents to stay far from the fence.
“You deserve a better government. You deserve a better future,” the leaflets said. “Do not approach the security fence nor participate in the Hamas display that is putting you in risk.”
A high-ranking delegation of Gaza’s Hamas rulers headed Sunday to Egypt, amid diplomatic efforts aimed at containing the mass rally. But one of the Hamas participants, Khalil al-Hayya, said there were no breakthroughs and the march would go on as planned Monday.
The army said it was also reinforcing its troops in the West Bank with several combat battalions and intelligence units in case of possible unrest there as well.
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu told his Cabinet that there would be a “series of decisions” to build up Jerusalem, including its contested eastern sector. Shortly after, the government approved construction of a $57 million cable car system that will link west Jerusalem to the Old City.
Although Trump has said his declaration does not set the final borders of the city, his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been perceived by both Israel and the Palestinians as taking Israel’s side in the most sensitive issue in their conflict. Only two countries, Guatemala and Paraguay, have said they will follow suit. Most of the world maintains embassies in Tel Aviv, saying the Jerusalem issue must first be resolved.
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