Palestinians fear violence after Trump's Jerusalem embassy move

Palestinians fear violence after Trump's Jerusalem embassy move
In-depth: The Palestinian leadership will come under increasing pressure as tensions build in the region following Trump's decision to move Washington's embassy to Jerusalem, reports Ylenia Gostoli.
6 min read
07 December, 2017
Jerusalem is considered one of the thorniest issues in the conflict [AFP]
Palestinians fear the consequences of a speech in which US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and started the process of moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv - as he pledged during his election campaign.

On Monday, Trump missed a deadline to sign a waiver that would have allowed the embassy move to be delayed for six more months. The presidential waiver to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act had been signed every six months without fail by successive American administrations.

The Palestinian leadership has warned that the decision would inflict a final blow to the US-led peace process.

During a press conference in Ramallah on Tuesday, Nasser al-Kidwa, of Fatah's central committee - the party which dominates the PA and the PLO - said the US had ended its role as a sponsor of the peace process and called for a complaint against the United States to be filed at the UN Security Council.

A day earlier, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called for popular mobilisation against the expected decision, announcing three days of rage starting on Wednesday.

Palestinians were seen burning images of President Trump in the southern city of Bethlehem on Tuesday night and a demonstration was held in Gaza on Wednesday. Elsewhere, streets remained quiet in the hours leading up to the official announcement on Wednesday evening. But Palestinians were concerned about the timing and consequences of the move.

"Jerusalem is important to the Palestinian people not only for its religious symbolism but also as the centre of Palestinian cultural and social life," Yara Hawari, a policy fellow at Palestinian think tank Al Shabaka, told The New Arab.

"This latest move by the US is not only a serious provocation but demonstrates yet again a clear message to Israel that it remains a staunch ally even in the face of massive human rights violations."
This decision will have serious consequences for Palestinians on the ground and is likely to be a prelude to yet another round of Israeli annexation and expulsion of Palestinian communities

While Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The international community has never recognised Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, and the announcement would make the US the first state to do so.

"This decision will have serious consequences for Palestinians on the ground and is likely to be a prelude to yet another round of Israeli annexation and expulsion of Palestinian communities. Indeed it comes at a time when various vulnerable Palestinians communities in the Jerusalem area are facing imminent expulsion," Hawari said, adding that she believed the timing was not coincidental.

On October 29, the Knesset postponed indefinitely a vote on the Greater Jerusalem Law, which would have seen the annexation of the West Bank settlements of Maale Adumim, Givat Zeev, Beitar Illit and the Etzion bloc settlements, where about 150,000 Israelis live. The vote was postponed reportedly under US pressure.

The Trump administration is also reported to be drafting a plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, with efforts led by the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Jerusalem has historically been considered one of the thorniest issues in the conflict, to be resolved at the negotiating table rather than through a unilateral move.

Zacharia Odeh, director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, said he wasn't surprised at the move, seeing as the US Congress effectively recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 1995. He believes Trump and Netanyahu are simply taking advantage of fragmentation in the Arab region.

"Some states have taken positions of normalising with Israel. This is in violation of the Arab Initiative, which calls for normalisation [in exchange] for peace. What's going on now is a normalisation approach with Israel without any peace achievement," Odeh said. For the Palestinian leadership, he added, the move "hasn't left any option".

"Of course this will affect the two-state solution, because it is based on East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. This will stop or destroy any opportunity for going back to the negotiating table and lead to more Palestinian protest," Odeh said.

According to reports since Abbas visited Saudi Arabia last month, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented the President with a peace plan that falls way short of Palestinian national aspirations. The plan has not been made public.

The Palestinian leadership has been under increasing pressure from the US Congress, which just yesterday passed a bill approving restrictions on financial aid to the Palestinian Authority over its "martyr payments".

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem would "show how weak the Palestinian strategy has become, and how much of a dead end they found themselves in", said Hugh Lovatt, an analyst for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Jerusalem is a city for all religions, from Christianity, to Judaism and Islam. It will cripple the peace process, put the PA in an awkward position where they're already weak

"And ultimately, if they are unwilling to challenge the basic structure of Oslo that led them in this position, all they're left with is piecemeal tactical responses that never really shift the paradigm that much."

Nasser Hadi, who runs a well-known restaurant and bakery in Ramallah's city centre, fears the move will ignite another round of violence.

"I think it will inflame the Arab world. Jerusalem is a city for all religions, from Christianity, to Judaism and Islam. It will cripple the peace process, put the PA in an awkward position where they're already weak," Hadi told The New Arab.

A year ago, on the eve of the US presidential election, he'd showcased Trump's portrait in his shop's window. He had made the president's hair from a yellow mana'eesh - a traditional yellow savoury pastry. A number of Palestinians at that time welcomed the chance that Trump would break with the stalled status-quo.

"It's not really up to the leadership, it's up to the people," concluded Hadi.

"For the Israelis, who are the stronger of the two parties, they should recognise if you don't give the Palestinians their own sovereignty and their own rights, we will have another cycle of violence. To achieve peace, the two parties have to have their freedom and self-determination. I do believe in peace, but I think we are coming to very hostile times, and very hard times."

Widespread disillusion with the current Palestinian leadership has meant popular mass mobilisation has been typically weak among Palestinians in recent years.

That and the fact the PA has been suppressing any expression of dissent, including within the ranks of Fatah, has meant streets have been eerily empty in the West Bank at times when major political upheavals were expected.

The most successful popular mobilisation since a wave of "lone wolf" violence began in 2015 took place in Jerusalem over proposed Israeli security measures at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which turned out to be a unifying element for Palestinians regardless of their political allegiance.

Yellow Fatah flags are traditionally seen hanging on the neglected high-rise buildings of Qaddura refugee camp in Ramallah, crammed in a few square metres in a maze of narrow streets. Hussein, 31, who works in a grocery shop here, told The New Arab he believes the whole of Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine.

Anas, 24, interjected: "We speak for ourselves, not about what they [the Palestinian leadership] say... For the Palestinians, it's to be or not to be. There is nothing to lose."

Ylenia Gostoli is an independent journalist based in Jerusalem. Her work was shortlisted for the Anna Lindh Mediterranean Journalist Award in 2014.

Follow her on Twitter @YleniaGostoli