U.S. Embassy Moves to Jerusalem Strikes International Controversy, Steps Backward in Gaza Peace
May 20, 2018
On Monday, May 14th Palestinians took to the streets in protest to the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move blocked for 23 years by every United States president since the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed Congress in 1995. Historically, experts say the Act was politically motivated by U.S. Presidential candidates who intended to gain support of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., yet experts say it was never implemented for fear of disrupting the peace process. An amendment within the bill allowed for American Presidents to use a six-month waiver repeatedly to differ the decision until President Donald Trump. At present, both countries claim Jerusalem as their capital; however, neither claim is internationally recognized as a final settlement for the conflict was never reached.
For months prior to the move of the Embassy, experts warned that the Trump Administration’s planned actions with the goal of “advancing the cause of peace” between Israel and Palestine failed to recognize the likely backlash: civil disobedience, violent protests – possibly extending into Muslim-majority countries – and worldwide diplomatic complications for the U.S. and Israel. Earlier in May, thousands rallied worldwide – in Turkey and Jordan, Egypt, across Europe and in the U.S. - to protest the recent move of the U.S.Embassy. For example, following the move, protests erupted in Morocco on Sunday, May 20th, with more than 10,000 marchers taking to the streets of Casablanca. The U.S. actions also come as U.S. and Israeli allies in the Middle East are already angered with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal just a week prior, and now the Embassy move places Israel at the center of growing regional tensions.
News out of Gaza on Monday May 14th reported that Palestinians set tents close to the border to demonstrate to demand the ‘Right of Return’ of refugees to Israeli controlled areas, a move Israelis argue was a mass attempt by Palestinians to infiltrate the border. The demonstrations turned violent when Israeli Security Forces (ISF) personnel responded with both non-violent means, such as tear gas, and lethal force, by using live ammunition. By the end of the day, the spark in violence materialized into the deadliest day seen by Gazans since the start of the ‘Great March of Return’, which began on March 30th, and the war of 2014. The death toll of Palestinian demonstrators rose to at least 60 casualties (conflicting counts depending on sources) and more than 2771 injuries, many by live ammunition.
There was a stark contrast to the violence witnessed in the Gaza Strip on May 14th, as the Declaration of Independence and the opening of the U.S. Embassy were being celebrated in Israeli controlled areas. On Tuesday, May 15th, a day of mourning was held in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip through a general strike, which marked the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakbeh, an annual day to remember the 700,000 Palestinian refugees caused by the war of 1948. As result of these events, the U.S. has retracted itself from being a mediator in the peace process as Palestinians see this move as taking a clear position in favor of Israel. As such, the Palestinian Authority (PA) recalled its representative to the U.S. in protest to the embassy transfer.
U.S. Embassy Move Is Internationally Condemned
The international community has taken immediate an immediate response by condemning the actions of ISF that took place in Gaza on May 14.
At the request of Kuwait, a UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting was held on Tuesday, May 15 to discuss the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. blocked the adoption of UNSC statement calling for a probe instead of holding Hamas accountable for the deaths (reiterated by the White House). However, Germany and the UK demanded that an independent inquiry into the violence still take place.
On Friday May 18th, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Palestinian territories. Twenty-nine out of the forty-seven member states of the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor of sending a delegation to conduct an investigation into the incidents that took place in the Gaza Strip.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) also announced its readiness to take measures against the recent developments on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israeli controlled areas. According to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, court experts are examining reports of possible crimes that may fall under the court’s jurisdiction. In this sense, the PA is already taking steps to file an official complaint.
Other immediate measures have taken place to reinforce the international effort:
- UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) condemned the excessive use of force by ISF.
- The South African government, the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others summoned their ambassadors from Israel to convene their position on the U.S. Embassy transfer and the violence in Gaza.
- Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara and the Israeli consul from Istanbul. In response, Israel expelled the Turkish consul from Jerusalem. Also, the Turkish ambassadors from both Washington and Tel Aviv were summoned in protest to the transfer of the US Embassy.
- The Arab League called for a crisis meeting on Thursday, May 17th and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called for a meeting to be held on Friday, May 18th.
Conflict Expected to Escalate
Forecasting the security in the region, and the future of the conflict, experts see this as the end of the American-led peace effort in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the U.S. is no longer seen as a neutral mediator. Further, the actions taking by the U.S. could jeopardize its activities in the Middle East and become a target, already it has set of new calls by Al-Qaeda for jihad against the U.S. In this sense, the violence will likely fuel regional conflicts, potentially between Israel and Iran, Hezbollah threats and retaliation from Syria. The U.S. actions may place Israel in the crosshairs, especially as the U.S. moves to recognized its sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
The violence that took place on May 14th could also mean grave consequences to Gaza, the West Bank and other areas with more waves of violence between Palestinians and Israelis expected, especially as the U.S. makes steep funding cuts to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Experts say the planned cuts of $65m out of a $125m aid package could be “catastrophic” for millions in the region, specifically Palestinian refugees. The resulting economic instability for those in need could push them to seek violent means to protest their conditions, as poverty and unemployment create fertile conditions for militant groups to recruit new members.
In Palestine specifically, the PA is facing extensive pressures to react to the situation at large and could potentially face repercussions from the Palestinian public if it fails to respond effectively. The PA has struggled politically since the U.S. announced its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. Moreover, the PA has been working to create multilateral peace process in the framework of the Iran deal to advance peace negotiations further away from the US’s grip, as the Oslo Accords are no longer effective in peace-making in the region and did not lead to a Palestinian State. The current effort by PA is intended to reconciliate with Hamas to create a single, stronger voice for the Palestinian cause but developments over this issue have been stagnating and, possibly, about to collapse.
Across the border, Israel risks being isolated internationally, beginning with a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to locate diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. All the while, there is a possibility that the incident will be noted as a footnote, as Guatemala and Paraguay followed suit and opened their Embassies in Jerusalem just days later. At present, actions by the international community has generally failed to take significant action: even with the many UN resolutions that have been, and are currently proposed, most aren’t implemented or fail to enforce a decision. For example, the UNSC resolution 2334 adopted on December 23th, 2016, was intended to end the occupation by Israel and establish a Palestinian state, however it has only serviced to condemn Israel on the grounds of occupation and has no legal validity or course for action. It remains to be seen if continued UN actions will mean more of the same.
Points of contact (May 14th and May 15th)
- E Jabalia RC 5.13 km W of Beit Hanoun
- E Bureij RC 5.36 km NE of Deir Al-Balah
- E Khuza'a 6.95 km SE of Khan Yunis City
- E Rafah City
- Abasan Al-Kabira 5.37 km E of Khan Yunis City
- E Beit Hanoun
- Nahal Oz base 5.34 km SE of Gaza City
- E Deir Al-Balah
- Tuqu' 7.63 km S of Bethlehem
- Beit Ummar 9.96 km N of Hebron
- Deir Nizam 12.74 km NW of Ramallah
- Rachel's Tomb 1.56 km N of Bethlehem
- Atara CP 8.52 km N of Ramallah
- Beit El DCO CP 4.10 km NE of Ramallah
- Qalandiya CP 6.24 km SE of Ramallah
- Bab Al-Zawiya SE Hebron
- At the entrance of Jericho City
- Geshori 2.13 km W of Tulkarm
- At the entrance of Aqbat Jabir RC 8.09 km SW of Jericho
- Al-Arroub RC 10.92 km N of Hebron
- Huwwara CP 4.72 km S of Nablus
- Deir Sharaf 8.14 km NW of Nablus
- Al-Khader 3.50 km W of Bethlehem
- Fawwar RC 6.49 km SW of Hebron
- Al-Nabi Salih 13.65 km NW of Ramallah
- At the entrance of Lubban Al-Sharqiyya 6.04 km E of Salfit
- Deir Abu Mash'al 15.59 km NW of Ramallah
- Beita 8.71 km S of Nablus
- Har Homa 2.84 km NE of Bethlehem
- Azzun 7.63 km E of Qalqilya
- At the entrance of Qusra 15.98 km SE of Nablus
- At the entrance of Abud 16.58 km NW of Ramallah
- Sa'ir 7.57 km NE of Hebron
- Saffa 12.22 km W of Ramallah
- Salim 6.47 km E of Nablus
- Burdus 19.50 KM. W Ramallah
- Deir Abu Mash'al 15.59 KM. NW Ramallah
Israeli controlled areas
- Shu'fat CP 6.97 km NE of Jerusalem
- Silwan 3.75 km E of Jerusalem
- Hizma 10.38 km NE of Jerusalem
- Kobsa junction (Ras Kobsa) in Al-Eizariya 5.16 km E of Jerusalem
- Al-Ram 11.01 km N of Jerusalem
- Abu Dis 6.27 km E of Jerusalem
- Abu Riala neighborhood in Isawiya NE Jerusalem
- Al-Tur NE Jerusalem
- Umm Al-Fahm 16.35 km SW of Afula
- Damascus Gate 0.42 km NW of the Old City / Jerusalem
- Jaffa Gate 0.52 km SW of the Old City / Jerusalem
- Near the US Consulate 2.71 km SE Jerusalem
- Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv
Hebrew University of Jerusalem NE Jerusalem