World News

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

Posted December 6, 2017 12:42 p.m. EST

JERUSALEM — Protesters burned photos of President Donald Trump in Gaza City on Wednesday and Palestinian officials talked of cutting ties with the United States or ending security cooperation with Israel, as both sides in the intractable conflict awaited Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

In Jerusalem, government ministers and opposition leaders alike welcomed the U.S. decision, and the walls of the Old City were lit Wednesday evening with the colors of the American and Israeli flags. But ordinary Israelis and supporters of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict expressed fears that the move would ignite a new round of violence.

Yediot Ahronot, one of the nation’s leading daily newspapers, ran a photograph of Trump touching the ancient stones of the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in the hotly contested Old City, under the 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, who was also expected to say he was setting in motion a plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“The issue of Jerusalem is the issue of the Palestinian people and the cause of the nation,” Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, told Al-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.

“The ball of fire will roll until an intifada will break out,” warned Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.

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 details and 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.”

Abbas was expected to respond to Trump’s speech with a televised address of his own Wednesday evening.

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 Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the right-wing 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.”