The day the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem is a day the world has longed for, because of what it was supposed to represent: the end of a seemingly endless conflict, a blood-soaked tragedy with justice and cruelty on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians have envisioned a capital in Jerusalem, and for generations the Americans, the honest brokers in seeking peace, withheld recognition of either side’s claims, pending a treaty that through hard compromise would resolve all competing demands.
But on Monday President Trump delivered the embassy as a gift without concession or condition to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and as a blow to the Palestinians. The world did not witness a new dawn of peace and security for two peoples who have dreamed of both for so long. Instead, it watched as Israeli soldiers shot and killed scores of Palestinian protesters, and wounded thousands more, along Israel’s boundary with the Gaza Strip.
Unilateral action, rather than negotiation and compromise, has served the purposes of successive right-wing Israeli governments. They have steadily expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank, on land Palestinians expected to be part of any Palestinian state.
And even when the Israelis uprooted settlements in Gaza in 2005, they did so without negotiating an agreement that would have empowered a more moderate Palestinian government. They acted to increase Israeli security in the short term while increasing Palestinian despair and the power of militant groups like Hamas. For years, Israeli governments have insisted they have no peace partner on the other side, while behaving in a way that perpetuates that reality. The possibility of peace has continued to recede, and Israel’s democratic character has continued to erode under the pressure of a long-term occupation of millions of Palestinians who lack sovereignty of their own.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised a grand peace plan without delivering, and he has now lent America’s weight to this maximalist Israeli strategy. For decades, the United States prided itself on mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. Successive administrations urged a peace formula in which the two parties would negotiate core issues — establishing boundaries between the two states; protecting Israel’s security; deciding how to deal with refugees who fled or were driven away after Israeli statehood in 1948; and deciding the future of Jerusalem, which was expected to become the shared capital of Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Trump’s announcement that he was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, swept aside 70 years of American neutrality.
The ceremony on Monday marking the embassy opening could hardly have been more dismissive of Palestinians. It was timed to make the American bias clear, coming on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence in 1948 — and the day before Palestinians observe Nakba, or Catastrophe, the expulsion of their ancestors from the newly formed Jewish state. The fact that Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor who has denigrated Jews, Mormons and Muslims, and the Rev. John Hagee, a megachurch televangelist who has claimed Hitler was descended from “half-breed Jews” and was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel, had prominent roles in the ceremony should embarrass all who participated.
Israel has every right to defend its borders, including the boundary with Gaza. But officials are unconvincing when they argue that only live ammunition — rather than tear gas, water cannons and other nonlethal measures — can protect Israel from being overrun.
Led too long by men who were corrupt or violent or both, the Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now, Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence, rather than keeping their protests strictly peaceful.
But the contrast on Monday, between exultation in Jerusalem and the agony of Palestinians in Gaza, could not have been more stark, or more chilling to those who continue to hope for a just and durable peace.
(This article was first appeared as an editorial in The New York Times)