Rockets Fired, Airstrikes Launched As Palestinians Protest US Decision To Move Embassy

Protests and exchanges of violence have intensified between Palestinians, antagonized by the US’ latest political blunder, and Israeli military and security forces operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since December 8. At the time of writing, dozens of people have reportedly been injured on both sides and tensions are highly likely to escalate in the lead up to the new year.

The Palestinian government announced President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet US Vice President Mike Pence during Pence’s scheduled visit in December, boycotting the US’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said the move “raises questions over American efforts to support peace.”  UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov, speaking to the UN Security Council, underlined his concerns that the violence will escalate, due to the importance of the site to billions of people, Christian, Jewish and Muslim alike and the gesture that symbolizes the US is turning its back on the peace process and alienating a large number of people. Following the recent rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I hear voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come and the awful incitement against us.”

While one must condemn any form of retaliation taken from either side, it is also necessary to criticize the root cause of the situation. The abruptness of the move by the US underlines the country’s lack of diplomatic experience and disregard for the potential of dialogue between political entities under this administration. It has cemented a polarized situation as it has engendered an equally abrupt reaction from those in Palestine and the Middle East, who counted the US as mediators and neutral parties, but now see the US as biased, and therefore, an adversary of the peace negotiations.

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump ruptured decades of US foreign policy by recognizing the entirety of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whereas Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of what would be their future nation. Only a handful of states operate a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem that are accredited to Israel, the vast majority operate from Tel Aviv out of concern for the diplomatic rift between Israel and Palestine. On Friday December 8, Palestinian militants launched six rockets towards Israeli townships from the Gaza Strip, according to the UN News Centre. Israel responded with air strikes targeting military and manufacturing facilities, with reports that several Palestinians were killed during attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The move highlights once again the nature of US foreign policy under Trump: brash, thoughtless and irresponsible, with the potential to cripple a peace solution between Israel and Palestine for years to come and represent far wider implications for security in the Middle East. Not only this, but it has compromised the United States’ ability to directly influence the peace process: whether or not the US intends to continue to take part in these negotiations, many within pro-Palestinian spheres no longer trust the US to do so from a neutral standpoint. The old adage “actions speak louder than words” rings true on this occasion, though for the wrong reasons. For now, a return to meaningful negotiations is essential in order to avoid further causalities and escalation of violence.

Hugh Davies