Why Was Trump Moving the Israeli Embassy Significant?

On 14th May, 2018, the new American embassy opened in Jerusalem, where it moved after previously being in Tel Aviv. This was a move that reversed seven decades of American foreign policy, one that, although talked about by Clinton and Bush, had never been carried out. Until now.

But why does this matter? What significance does it have to the wider conflict occurring in and around Israel? In short, Trump officially moving the embassy is a proclamation that the US supports Israel over Palestine – although the President denies that this move means that America is taking a position.

The reason why this move is so meaningful is because of the long and bloody history between Israel and Palestine. In the 1800s, Israel was Palestine and Palestine was generally made up of Arab Muslims. Following rising anti-Semitism, Zionism emerged, the idea that the country of Palestine was where the Jewish people should have their home, their own Jewish state. Immigration eventually led to conflict, not aided by British double dealing the First World War. The Arabs felt that they were being pushed out of their home by the Jews, and the Jews felt that it was their right to have a homeland. Following the atrocities of the Second World War, Jewish desire for a homeland increased but due to the restrictions that Britain had placed on immigration (due to them holding the Mandate) this could not happen. This led to violence and Britain gave responsibility of the Israel-Palestine problem to the newly-formed UN. The main issue was not religion or even racism, but land. Despite the UN’s attempts to partition the country in a relatively equal way, after the 1948-1949 war, the state of Israel (the Jews) had 78% of the land and half of Jerusalem. This half increased during the 1967 war to annex East Jerusalem, an area which Palestinians claim to be their capital. Having the embassy moved to Jerusalem suggests that the US supports the Israeli claim that it is their capital and therefore removes weight from the claim that it is also the capital of Palestine.

The decision to move drew international protest, with several countries including Britain and Germany expressing their dissatisfaction, and protests involving 1000s in Turkey and Jordan. A commonly held complaint was that this move would compromise the USA’s ability to act as a neutral peace keeper, a role that they have fulfilled for many years but, according to Palestine, can no longer keep. This was a move that Trump promised in his campaign, partly to ensure evangelical and Zionist groups voted for him and, unlike other presidents, he was determined to keep his promise. Nonetheless, this is a move that could create many problems in the future as evidenced by the events on the day of the opening ceremony – 60 Palestinians were killed in clashes at the Gaza border and thousands were wounded.

Many could justly say that Trump’s decision to move the embassy is a step in the wrong direction to ending this complex conflict, and that it will only further inflame relationships between the already belligerent countries of the Middle East. Trump says that the previous actions of presidents have obviously not helped matters, but will a change in this direction prove fruitful, or will his critics be proved right? Time will tell.

Rose, Senior Prefect

 

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