NEW YORK. — Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops have taken place in cities across the occupied West Bank as anger over Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital spilled on to the streets.
The most violent confrontations occurred in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, where Israeli security forces fired teargas and plastic-coated rounds as hundreds of protesters threw stones and set alight barricades.
In the Gaza Strip, dozens of protesters gathered near the border fence with Israel and threw rocks at soldiers on the other side. Two protesters were wounded by live fire, with one reported to be in a critical condition. A fresh round of violent protests are expected today at mass demonstrations called to follow Friday prayers.
The confrontations took place as a meeting of the UN Security Council was called for today to discuss Trump’s decision, condemnation of which continues to mount across the Middle East and internationally.
Eight countries on the 15-member council requested the meeting, including the UK, Italy and France, amid claims from Palestine and Turkey that recognition by the US president is in breach of both international law and UN resolutions.
The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc had a united position that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state. France said it rejected the “unilateral” US decision while the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, both described Trump’s announcement as “unhelpful”.
The Russian foreign ministry said US recognition risked “dangerous and uncontrollable consequences”.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hailed US recognition of Jerusalem as “historic” and claimed other countries were in contact about following Trump’s lead, but was alone among regional leaders in praising the move.
Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.
Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s boundaries and annexed it – an act that was never recognised internationally.
Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its “united and eternal” capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international view, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital puts the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east – considered illegal under international law.
Saudi Arabia’s royal court called it “unjustified and irresponsible” in a rare rebuke of the US, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Trump had thrown the Middle East into a “ring of fire”.
Yesterday’s confrontations on the West Bank took place during a widely observed general strike that shuttered Palestinian shops and closed schools. The presence of Palestinian police in plain clothes and armed security forces in uniform nearby, however, suggested a degree of control by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
The scale of the protests and level of violence, however, noticeably fell short of similar clashes at the height of the second intifada. At one large confrontation in Ramallah, a group of three teenage girls, their faces masked with headscarves, told reporters that “Trump could go to hell.”
In Jerusalem’s Old City, where most Palestinian shops were shut, Salah Zuhikeh, 55, told AFP: “By this decision, America became a very small country, like any small country in the world, like Micronesia. America was a great country for us and everyone.”
The US president defied overwhelming global opposition by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and directing the state department to start making arrangements to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering,” he said in a short speech at the White House on Wednesday. “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
It later emerged, in a memo leaked to Reuters news agency, that the US had privately asked Israel to temper its response to the announcement.
The state department document, dated 6 December, stated in talking points for diplomats at the US embassy in Tel Aviv to convey to Israeli officials: “While I recognise that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response.”
It continued: “We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on US facilities and personnel overseas.”
A second state department memo seen by Reuters asked European officials to argue that Trump’s decision did not prejudge the “final status” issue of Jerusalem’s sovereignty, which needed to be resolved in any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
“You are in a key position to influence international reaction to this announcement and we are asking you to amplify the reality that Jerusalem is still a final status issue between Israelis and Palestinians and that the parties must resolve the dimensions of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem during their negotiations,” it said.
“You know that this is a unique administration. It makes bold moves. But it is bold moves that are going to be needed if peace efforts are finally going to be successful.”
The peace process has been at death’s door since the former secretary of state John Kerry’s peace mission ended in failure in 2014. But the international community – apart from the US – is united in saying recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is disastrous for any hopes of reviving meaningful talks.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the pivotal issues that diplomats and peacemakers have said must be agreed between the two parties in negotiations. Palestinians will see Trump’s announcement as the end of their hopes and demands for East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state. While few want a return to violence, many will feel diplomatic efforts have got them no closer to a state of their own. — The Guardian.