World News

Palestinians Protest U.S. Embassy Plan, as Israelis Brace for Violence

Posted December 6, 2017 10:29 a.m. EST

JERUSALEM — There was no dancing in the rain-soaked streets, no jubilant horn-honking or waving of the blue-and-white flag. But there were blustery statements from Israeli politicians.

“Destiny,” the right-wing education minister, Naftali Bennett, called it.

Across the concrete separation barrier to the south, there were belligerent threats from Palestinian militant groups: “The ball of fire will roll until an intifada will break out,” warned Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.

News that President Donald Trump would formally recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and take steps to move the United States Embassy to the city seemed to be taking a bit of time to sink in Wednesday — like an unfamiliar feeling — in the one land, and among the two peoples, that it will affect most.

It was perhaps easier, for the moment, to let reflexes take over. Israelis did what they know well, bracing for the sort of explosive response that has long been cited by international leaders as a deterrent for moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

Yediot Ahronot, one of the nation’s leading dailies, ran a photograph of Trump touching the ancient stones of the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in the hotly contested Old City, under a 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.

Indeed, 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 Trump.

“The issue of Jerusalem is the issue of the Palestinian people and the cause of the nation,” Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, said in an interview with A- Jazeera. “We think this is an unaccountable gamble and an adventure that will not have a ceiling. The decision will be the beginning of a time of horrific transformations across the region.”

In Gaza City, officials and residents wasted little time taking up that call: By noon Wednesday, despite a downpour, hundreds of demonstrators burned American flags and posters bearing 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.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, there were harsh words for 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 Abu Malik, 54, a retired farmer. “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 Israel would set off a third intifada. “He really doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into,” she said of 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, depending on the wording of his announcement. But they did not hesitate to describe Trump’s decision as 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 the Palestinian president, Mahmoud 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 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. (BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.) It was left to Netanyahu’s rivals and allies in Israel to assess Trump’s plans, and all welcomed it, regardless of their views on how to achieve peace.

“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.”

(END OPTIONAL TRIM.) Avi Gabbay, the Labor party leader, congratulated Trump but added that he hoped his announcement would include “confidence-building measures which will reignite hope in the Middle East, and hope for a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians.”

But Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home party, said U.S. 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.” (STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.) Other supporters of a two-state solution seized on 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 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.”