This May, Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of their independence. The Palestinians, on the other side of their border, are marking the date, A little differently. Tensions have been on the rise since the US announced a change of address for the US embassy, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Our Scott Thuman went to Israel to see how the move is being received.
By the thousands, Palestinians approached the Israeli border this month. A protest at the loss of their homes and land when Israel was formed. The Israeli army responded with force, leaving dozens dead.
Tensions rising, as the country prepares to mark 70 years since its founding and amid renewed strain caused, in part, by President Trump’s declaration last December.
President Trump: Today we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less than a recognition of reality. I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
That move delighted President Netanyahu and many Jewish Israelis but, Palestinians were enraged. They want part of Jerusalem as their capital one day.
Scott Thuman: When you look at this decision, good idea by President Trump?
Emmanuel Navon: Obviously, yes. Jerusalem has been the center of the Israeli government since 1949. So, it’s nearly 70 years, 68 years, that the government of Israel is in Jerusalem. So, President Trump, first of all, recognized this fact. But he also recognized the importance and the centrality of Jerusalem for the Jewish people.
Emmanuel Navon is a Professor of International Relations at Tel Aviv University.
Emmanuel Navon: Jerusalem was founded by the Jews, by King David, 3,000 years ago. It never was the capital of any other country or any other people, and it is central to the Jewish faith.
President Trump's decision and desire to make the move official by Israel's 70th anniversary in May, has forced a mad dash, with efforts to repurpose an already existing U.S. consulate building on this Jerusalem hillside, into a temporary embassy.
Much of the focus back in the United States has been about the moving of this embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but many of the folks we talk to here in Israel will tell you that there is a bigger, more important story to tell.
That by gaining an embassy in Jerusalem, the US could also be losing its seat at the negotiating table. Veteran Palestinian diplomat and negotiator Nabil Shaath says that era of America as a peace broker is over.
Nabil Shaath: We have not given up a peace process, but we've given up a peace process chaperoned solely by the White House, i.e., by Mr. Trump. Being an honest broker requires that you are honest, and require that you are not one-sided, but you look at the two sides, and you try to broker the differences.
President Trump may be the first American leader to order the embassy to move to Jerusalem, but the idea has been out there for years. In fact, we came across this patch of empty land in West Jerusalem and learned that years ago, Israel leased this plot to the U.S. for a token one dollar a year. City authorities even zoned it for diplomatic purposes, a sign of how long Israeli leaders have wanted to see a U.S. ambassador based here.
Scott Thuman: If it’s so logical, why have none of the previous presidents dating back to Bill Clinton done this?
Emmanuel Navon: And all presidents, since President Clinton, have been pushing it off, saying no, because it might affect the peace process.
Scott Thuman: The peace process, if the peace process doesn’t work.
Emmanuel Navon: I mean, how can you say after 22 years, this is going to affect the peace process?
The peace process has, by any measure, been stalled for years. But throughout each stage of negotiation, the United States has always stood in the center, bringing together a succession of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
It will be for history to judge whether President Trump's Jerusalem declaration helps or hinders the prayers for peace.
There's no slowing down in just the last few days, Jewish city officials in Jerusalem took steps to remove red tape and keep the process moving.