For some, it was a day of joy… for others, a day of death.
It all depended on which side of the border fence you were on.
Americans witnessed it all in real time on television. News networks here switched to a split screen for their coverage from the Middle East: one half showed the smiles at the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem… the other was filled with bloody images of protestors in Gaza.
The juxtaposition was unnerving: a new hub for diplomacy was being dedicated in a part of the world that is home to great religions and should be peaceful, but is not.
Why is all this happening now?
The United States Congress actually voted to move the embassy in 1995, but in so doing it also gave the president the right to delay the action on national security grounds by signing a waiver every six months. President Bill Clinton did just that, citing the impact that moving the embassy would have on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. So did George W. Bush, Barack Obama and, initially, Donald Trump.
But Trump eventually shifted his position. His administration’s long-promised plan for peace in the region was going nowhere, and he had a campaign promise to fill.
It was a promise made to evangelical Christians who tend to be strong supporters of Israel, and to several of his prominent Jewish backers — including Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino mogul who has contributed multi-millions of dollars to both the Republican Party and Zionist causes.
Adelson was there at the embassy dedication. Trump was not. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner represented the United States at the ceremony, as did Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchen and several Republican members of the U.S. Senate.
If they knew what was going on in Gaza, they did not show it.
Hours earlier, calls to the faithful from minarets urged Palestinians in Gaza to rush the fence bordering Israel. Thousands did and the Israeli army responded with tear gas and bullets. Dozens were killed and there were so many wounded that local hospitals were overwhelmed.
How ironic it was. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was welcoming his distinguished guests and saying “what a glorious day it was,” Palestinians were showing their fury and spilling their blood.
The two scenes were maybe an hour’s drive apart in easy traffic. But they showed two different worlds… and a divide between Israelis and Palestinians that is so deep you have to wonder if anyone could build a bridge.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump bragged he could — that he would be the ultimate dealmaker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He also talked about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even though the city’s final status had long been considered a subject for negotiations.
And when the embassy move DID occur and the predicted bloodshed ensued, how did the Trump White House respond? It called the violence “a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt,” by Hamas, which controls Gaza. There has been no call for for Israeli restraint.
And all this is happening at a time when Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding… and Palestinians are mourning the fact it’s been 70 years since their expulsion from the land they consider their home.
Meanwhile, reviews of the embassy move here in the United States are mixed. Some Americans — mostly staunch conservatives — say the step was long overdue. But critics argue it has cost the United States its traditional standing as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and that is far too high a price to pay.
Want proof of the split in the USA? Look at the covers of two newspapers in President Trump’s hometown. The New York Post shows two Israelis giving the move a “thumbs up” and the headline “This Year in Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, NYC’s Daily News features a picture of Ivanka Trump at the embassy opening with the headline “Daddy’s Little Ghoul – 55 Slaughtered in Gaza but Ivanka all Smiles.”
And so we too are torn.
The United States was the first country to recognize the new state of Israel back in 1948. And thanks to Trump, we are now the only one to currently have an embassy in the city the Israelis consider their eternal capital. Actually, it is not a new embassy — just an existing consulate building in Jerusalem with new signage that will house offices for the ambassador and a few members of his staff until a permanent diplomatic compound is built.
That could take years — perhaps past the next U.S. presidential inauguration.
In the meantime, there is celebration and blood… two jarring images amid a slowly eroding hope for peace.
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert who has advised both Democratic and Republican U.S. presidents, is one of those losing hope.
He told the New York Times that before the embassy move, he viewed reaching a peace agreement as “mission impossible.” Now, he said, it has become “mission impossible on steroids.”