A Project for Better Journalism chapter

U.S. Embassy Move Exacerbates Tension on Israel’s Border

On May 14, while the United States celebrated the opening of its embassy in Jerusalem, the Palestinians continued their seventh week of protests near the border of Gaza Strip, desperate for a return of Palestinian territories now controlled by Israel. The recent Palestinian demonstrations, named the Great March of Return, faced strong resistance from the Israeli military, who had shot and killed at least 61 Palestinians and wounded thousands more as of May 15. The protest movement, coincided with the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, culminated in the bloodiest day on the Gaza Strip since the 2014 Gaza war.


Earlier in December, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision that deviated from the neutral stance that the U.S. had taken in the past 50 years. President Trump, however, was not the only one who showed initiatives to recognize Jerusalem. President Clinton, President Bush, and President Obama all promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem or recognize Jerusalem as the capital at some point during their campaign, but all chose not to do so during their administrations.


Since the U.N. decision to partition Palestine in 1947, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has been marred by conflicts and disputes on both sides. According to the partition plan, the British Palestinian territories would be divided into an Israeli and a Palestinian State, and Jerusalem, the focus of the conflict, would be placed under the administration of the United Nations as an international zone. The plan was never fully executed as a bloody Civil War broke out between Jews and Arabs, and following the Six-day War in 1967, the Israelis completely controlled Jerusalem. Palestinians proposed to divide the city into East and West Jerusalem, but Israelis were unwilling to compromise on the issue of the city. In 2015, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel would not seek any peace deal that would divide the city.


The conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian state have always put the United States in an awkward position in between. In addition to supporting Israel unilaterally as a traditional ally, the U.S. cannot ignore its responsibility in resolving the humanitarian crisis as a world leader. President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem and move the embassy placed him in a situation left uncharted by previous policy-makers, for better or for worse.