When President Trump relocated the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli Jews considered it a big win while Muslim Palestinians saw it as a snub. Now, more than three years later, President Biden is making his own mark, reshaping America’s role. Scott Thuman reports from Israel.
In Jerusalem, not far from the Wailing Wall and the site of the tomb of Jesus, an empty dirt lot has become the epicenter of an international argument that took a chaotic turn nearly four years ago, when then, President Trump, announced something that instantly reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy.
President Donald Trump: “Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.”
At the time, no other country in the world had made such a declaration. And from Gaza, to the gates of the Old City, it set off a firestorm of violent protests by Palestinians, who like the Israelis, claim Jerusalem as their capital. Their sovereignty blocked by an American and Jewish alliance.
More than three years later, the Israelis we spoke to had mixed reaction.
Scott Thuman: “How long have people in Israel been talking about the embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?”
Grocery Store Owner: “Five years maybe”.
Scott Thuman: “Long time?”
Grocery Store Owner: “Long time.”
Hair Salon Owner: “I think we are happy with this decision that Trump made and we hope that the new [American] administration will keep it.”
Preliminary actions were mostly symbolic, transferring some staff and services from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, located there since the 1960’s, into temporary space at an already existing U.S. Consulate office in Jerusalem. With the location of a permanent embassy not yet determined, it was a move then presidential candidate Joe Biden initially criticized from the campaign trail in boston, saying, “It should not have been moved”
The candidate became president, but Antony Blinken, then a nominee for Secretary of State, affirmed the Trump move at his own Senate Confirmation hearing.
Sen. Ted Cruz: “Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?”
Anthony J. Blinken: “Yes and yes.”
But in recent days the president dispatched his now-confirmed Secretary, to announce a matter likely to keep tensions in the region high - the re-opening of a diplomatic compound, an American Consulate located in a part of Jerusalem considered Palestinian territory.
Anthony J. Blinken, Secretary of State: “We'll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians."
When I sat down this summer with Palestinan Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, in their capital of Ramallah, located about an hour north of Jerusalem, he applauded the effort by the Biden administration to re-establish diplomatic ties inside the West Bank territory claimed by Palestinians. Ties that may one day reopen peace talks between Israel, Palestine and the U.S.
Palestinan Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh: “That's important to us, because we considered the American consulate in East Jerusalem as a nucleus for a future American Embassy to Palestine. And that's the real value for us.”
Dr Michael Milshstein is former head of the Israeli military’s Department for Palestinian Affairs.
Dr. Michael Milshtein: “Here in Israel, we are in a very complex situation with the government that they combine their right and left. Maybe the response of the Israeli government for this move will be a negative one.”
Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar proclaimed at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference that the reopening of the U.S. diplomatic facility for Palestinians in Jerusalem, will never happen.
Gideon Sa’ar, Israel's Justice Minister: “No way. I want to make it very clear. We oppose it. We don’t oppose it now and will have a different opinion after the project. We 100 percent oppose that.”
Meanwhile, there’s ongoing debate over what’s next. The State Department tells Full Measure that a separate, new U.S. Embassy will replace the temporary setup in the same area ofJerusalem, but won’t say exactly where. Only that it, “Will reflect the depth and breadth of the U.S. Relationship with Israel.”
In a land where occupying disputed space claimed by two peoples almost always has ramifications, it may make finding common ground even more elusive.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman, in Jerusalem.