Jerusalem is back in the spotlight. On Monday, Washington finalized the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, as the Trump administration ordered. The US also closed its consulate in Jerusalem, which for decades has been a sort of US diplomatic headquarters for the occupied Palestinian territories.
At the same time, in Baghdad, the head of the Iraqi state, Barham Salih, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed Jerusalem and the protection of holy sites in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Jerusalem seems to have stopped being a sticking point in the relations between Indonesia and Australia, which signed the Economic Partnership Agreement after months of delays due in part to the Indonesians’ disappointment at the decision by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In December, Morrison clarified that he only recognized the Jewish part of the city as the capital of Israel, and that there would be no similar move of the Australian embassy before the Israelis and the Palestinians strike a deal.
The State Department has tried to play down the importance of the closure of the US consulate and the permanent move of the embassy to Jerusalem. “This decision [to merge the consulate with the embassy] was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations. It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip,” said State Department spokesman Robert Palladino.
However, the change involved will be quite a stark one. Since Monday, all Palestinian issues are being dealt with by an office headed by the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a staunch supporter and financial supporter of the spread of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The chasm between the Palestinians and the US is only growing larger.
In October, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the closure of the consulate, the secretary of the PLO, Saeb Erekat, said this was “the last nail in the coffin” for American mediation in the conflict. Erekat put out a strong statement Monday condemning the closure of the consulate, arguing that the decision “has nothing to do with efficiency, but a lot with the desire to please the ideologized American team, which is primed to dismantle the foundations of the international system and US foreign policy in order to reward Israel for its violations and crimes.”
Meanwhile, the first son-in-law and Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jared Kushner, is keeping to his schedule of meetings in view of the planned unveiling of the US peace plan, the much-touted “deal of the century,” after the Israeli elections on April 9. Fully aware that the Palestinians will never accept this plan—which is rumored to provide for the administrative autonomy of Gaza and some Palestinian areas in the West Bank together with the end of the right of return for Palestinian refugees (in return for financial compensation)—Kushner has been trying over the past few days to sell the plan to the Saudis, the Turks and others in the region, to try to isolate the Palestinians. To what extent, if any, he has been successful in this attempt is not yet known.
However, Trump’s son-in-law remains ignorant of the tensions that are steadily increasing in the occupied West Bank. On Monday, not far from Ramallah, a squad of Israeli soldiers killed two young men, Amir Darraj and Youssef Anqawi, both in their 20s. According to the Israeli version of events, two soldiers were standing on the side of a road near the exit from the village of Niima when they were intentionally hit and injured by a Palestinian vehicle; afterwards the other Israeli soldiers at the scene opened fire, killing two of the three people inside the car.
The Palestinian side, however, categorically denies that the two Palestinians who were shot and killed actually committed an attack. They are arguing that the two were just laborers who were returning to work, and that they lost control of their vehicle due to bad road conditions. Netanyahu announced that he will make sure to push forward the planned demolition of the houses of the two “terrorists,” while the Palestinians are asking the ICC to investigate this incident as well, and include it as part of the ongoing trial they have brought against Israel.