What Trump's Jerusalem Decision Has Wrought

As the White House celebrates a new U.S. Embassy, over 50 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military

Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters, Spencer Platt/Getty

Though the Trump administration is celebrating Monday’s official opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, the move does not appear to have brought about any semblance of peace. An estimated 35,000 Palestinians lined the fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel in protest, and at least 58 have been killed by Israeli Defense Forces. At least 2,700 have been injured, according to Palestinian officials and the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Protests along the border have raged since March 30th, and follow a call to action by Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Artema, who in January posted to Facebook an invitation for a peaceful demonstration, along with the hashtag #GreatMarchOfReturn, a reference to the desire for Israel to allow the return of Palestinian families who were removed from Israel when the state as founded in 1948. Organizers have said that it was Trump’s announcement in December that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that inspired the protests. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, over 100 people have died and around 11,500 have been injured since the protests began.

Monday has been the bloodiest day of the protests by far, and Israel has drawn criticism for its use of force against the Palestinians.

Though most of those present are reportedly protesting peacefully, several Palestinians attempted to breach the razor-wire barricade, throwing firebombs, rocks and other rudimentary weapons, inciting the lethal response from Israeli Defense Forces, which has blamed the escalation on the Gazan militant group Hamas. The New York Times described the confrontation as "a pitched battle" resulting in "a chaotic panorama of smoke, sirens and tear gas that stretched along the fence."

The IDF also called in an airstrike on five Hamas targets in northern Gaza in response to "the violent acts carried out by Hamas over last few hours along the security fence."

According to the Times, a spokesman for IDF has questioned the number reported wounded by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, claiming that many of injured simply suffered from tear gas inhalation. The White House has called the violence a "propaganda attempt" from Hamas.

Though chaos reigns at the border, you wouldn’t know it from the pageantry 40 miles away at the new embassy. Musicians performed, several dignitaries spoke – including Jared Kushner, who leads the White House's "peace team" – and a video message from Trump was played for attendees. "Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital," Trump said. "Yet for many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious – the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem."

The White House also enlisted a pastor to lead a prayer at the opening of the embassy, who, as Mitt Romney pointed out, has expressed some problematic views in the past, including some directed toward Judaism.

For the ceremony's benediction, they brought in Reverend John C. Hagee, a televangelist who has said that Hurricane Katrina was God punishing the people of New Orleans for their sins, and that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jewish people to their homeland.

Though Trump cites it as an "obvious" choice for the embassy to be located in Jerusalem, there is a reason past administrations have kept it in Tel Aviv. The United States has traditionally held that the status of Jerusalem should be determined by Israel and Palestine – not the U.S. – and if the country is going to involve itself it needs to approach the conflict as an impartial arbiter. By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. has in effect taken sides, which could hinder its ability to broker a solution.

"You’ve prejudiced one of the most sensitive, most delicate, one of the most explosive issues between the Israelis and Palestinians, in the Arab World, in the Muslim world and all three monotheistic religions in one go. So, well done, Mr. President," Yossi Mekelberg, head of the International Relations and Politics Program at Regent's University London, told NBC News.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has maintained that its main objective is to bring peace to the Middle East. On Monday, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin reiterated the president's intention in the region.

On Sunday, Axios reported that Kushner has almost finished drafting his plan to bring peace, and that he was discussing when to release it with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and will remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth," Kushner said at the embassy on Monday.

Though the longterm consequences of moving the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv remain to be seen, in the short term, the decision seems to have exacerbated the conflict. Add to that the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran since Trump announced last Tuesday that he was removing the United States from the Iran deal, and it hasn't been a good week for peace in the region, regardless of how many campaign promises the president has managed to fulfill.

This post has been updated with the newest facts and figures available.