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Washington officially opens its embassy in Jerusalem today. The measure has unleashed a strong international condemnation and occurs just as tensions between Israel and Iran are growing. Tania Krämer reports from Jerusalem.
This May 14, the quiet residential neighborhood of Arnona south of Jerusalem will become the center of world attention. The flags of the United States and Israel already adorn the street leading to the now US consulate. Today, that same building will become the new address of the US embassy. in Jerusalem. The signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English are already hanging. About 1,000 guests are expected to attend the opening ceremony, including a US delegation headed by Finance Minister Steven Mnuchin.
In December, President Donald Trump announced the transfer of the Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem to fulfill his election promise. The decision breaks with the long-standing US foreign policy and has been criticized around the world. The international consensus continues to hold that the status of Jerusalem should be part of the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. However, with the opening of the embassy in this metropolis, which is claimed by both sides, it will receive US capital city condescensions for the Israelis.
“It’s good that the US moves its embassy here, because this is the capital, ask any child what our capital is: Jerusalem,” says citizen Uriel Berenstein, as he walks his dog west of Jerusalem. “If there is ever a Palestinian state, if they want a part of Jerusalem, they will have to reach an agreement, at this time Jerusalem is the Israeli capital,” he adds.
Moving with political consequences
In the beginning, only the United States Ambassador, David Friedman, and some of the staff will reside in Jerusalem. According to a US official, the complete move will take years. The embassy will be gradually enlarged in the current building or a new building will be built. The headquarters is located near the so-called Green Line, the line of demarcation that separated the Israeli and Jordanian territory after the 1948 war, and a few meters from “the no man’s land”.
“Paradoxically, the relocation of the embassy does not have a direct impact on the city, on the other hand, it has enormous consequences,” says Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer with American roots and founder of the non-governmental organization Jerusalem Terrestre. Today the city is “more divided, less sustainable and more competitive than ever”. The move does not change anything. On the other hand, this step means “the end of the US mediating role in relation to the political processes and relations between Israel and Palestine.”
The status of Jerusalem is one of the biggest problems between Israelis and Palestinians. It is believed that the Trump administration is working on a new peace agreement, but there are several signs around Jerusalem: on his first trip to Israel in April, the newly appointed US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, reiterated that “The borders of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem will continue to be the subject of negotiations between the two parties.”
In January, however, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, declared: “We have removed Jerusalem from the table, so we will not talk about it anymore.” The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) strongly condemned the decision of the Trump government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has since refused to cooperate diplomatically.
Palestinians lose hope in a future capital
“This shows that the Americans are completely on Israel’s side, they do not care about the rights of the Palestinians, they are basically telling the Palestinians that they are against our dream of having a state, we have nothing left,” says Jawad Siyam. , a Palestinian activist who participated in peaceful demonstrations in East Jerusalem in December after the announcement of the United States. “They repeat the story, telling the Palestinians: they have no rights here and another nation can take control,” he adds.
The Palestinians want their own state with their capital in East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered in 1967 during the Six Day War. In 1980 Israel successfully annexed East Jerusalem and declared the entire city as the capital. This step was never recognized by the majority of the international community, until now.
“Who is Trump to come to say that Jerusalem is Israel? What does he have to do with Jerusalem?” Says another young man who is heading to the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City. The United States ignores the Palestinian inhabitants and their historical and cultural ties to the city, which is sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The opening of the US Embassy takes place at a critical moment: tensions between Iran and Israel threaten to increase further. In parallel with the opening of the embassy, which will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, it is expected that the protests of weeks ago in the Gaza Strip will reach their peak. Since the end of March, the demonstrations of the so-called “Return March” take place there every Friday. The Palestinians remember the day of the founding of the State of Israel as the day of al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”), thus commemorating the flight, expulsion and the loss of their homeland.