US Embassy road signs installed in Jerusalem amid fears of violence

US Embassy road signs are installed in Jerusalem ahead of next week’s opening of the mission in the city amid fears of an ‘explosion of violence’

  • Workmen are installing signs along roads leading to U.S. consulate building
  • The US Embassy is being relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14
  • But Palestinians will commemorate 1948 mass uprooting the following day
  • There are fears the region is now heading for a fresh ‘explosion of violence’

US Embassy road signs have been installed in Jerusalem ahead of next week’s opening of the mission in the city amid fears of an ‘explosion of violence’.

The embassy is being relocated from Tel Aviv on May 14 following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But the next day, Palestinians will mark the ‘nakba,’ or catastrophe, to commemorate the anniversary of their mass uprooting during the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from what is now Israel, and recent border protests have been billed as a ‘Great March of Return.’ Since late March, 40 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 1,700 wounded by Israeli army fire.

US Embassy road signs have been installed in Jerusalem ahead of next week’s opening of the mission in the city amid fears of an ‘explosion of violence’

Workmen installed the black-and-white signs, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, along roads leading to a U.S. consulate building in south Jerusalem that will be remodelled as the embassy when it is formally relocated from Tel Aviv on May 14

Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of an American team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, wrote in Israeli paper Haaretz that next week’s embassy opening may pass without significant upheaval.

But he also cautioned that ‘it could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.’

He added that the situation between Israelis and Palestinians ‘could not be more delicate’.

Ahead of the embassy opening, officers have commenced security checks and extra patrols. 

Trump says he is making good on U.S. legislation and presidential pledges dating back decades. Other world powers have not done so, sidestepping one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, who want their own state with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Workmen installed the black-and-white signs, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, along roads leading to a U.S. consulate building in south Jerusalem that will be remodelled as the embassy when it is formally relocated.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from what is now Israel, and recent border protests (pictured) have been billed as a ‘Great March of Return’

Since late March, 40 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 1,700 wounded by Israeli army fire

‘This is not a dream. It is reality. I am proud and moved to have hung this morning the first new signs that were prepared for the U.S. Embassy,’ Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote on Twitter.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally. The last round of peace talks on a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip collapsed in 2014.

‘This (embassy) move is not only illegal but will also thwart the achievement of a just and lasting peace between two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 borders, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,’ Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

At the consulate site, mechanical diggers cleared scrubland as workers posted embassy signs along city roads and hung U.S., Israeli and Jerusalem flags from street lights.

‘We are thrilled that the American Embassy is coming here, finally,’ said Ruthann Nahum, 64, a New Yorker who moved to Israel 35 years ago. A restaurateur, she lives in the overwhelmingly Jewish neighbourhood of Arnona.

Palestinians throw rocks with slingshots in response to Israeli forces’ intervention during a protest within the ‘Great March of Return’ near the Israeli border on May 4

‘Welcome Trump, we belong here, forever. Jerusalem is our capital,’ she said.

The Trump administration has left the diplomatic door open to a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians on defining Jerusalem’s borders.

‘By recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the seat of its government, we’re recognising reality,’ U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Israel last week.

‘I also stress, as President Trump has said in December, the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiations between the parties, and we remain committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future for both Israel and the Palestinians.’

In March, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said that his country would relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April ‘at least half a dozen’ countries were now ‘seriously discussing’ following the U.S. lead, though he did not identify them.

Why is the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem

The United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians.

On Monday, road signs directing traffic there went up around the neighbourhood where it will be situated, and next week’s opening ceremony is timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

The initiative was driven by President Donald Trump, after he broke last year with decades of U.S. policy by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump said his administration has a peace proposal in the works, and recognising Jerusalem as the capital of America’s closest ally had ‘taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.’

The United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, celebrated Trump’s decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a ‘slap in the face’ and said Washington could no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.

Initially, a small interim embassy will operate from the building in southern Jerusalem that now houses U.S. consular operations, while a secure site is found to move the rest of the embassy operations from Tel Aviv.

WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNISE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL, AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?

There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a signature promise of his 2016 election campaign.

The decision was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, many of whom support political recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.

Trump acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but to which other presidents since then – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – consistently signed waivers.

WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?

Religion, politics and history.

Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders.

It is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognised internationally. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The city even has different names. Jews call it Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds, which means ‘The Holy’.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured), celebrated Trump’s decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies

But the city’s significance goes further.

At the heart of the Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains of them above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Within yards of the wall, and overlooking it, are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The city is also an important pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.

WHAT IS THE CITY’S MODERN HISTORY AND STATUS?

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the then British-ruled Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab state and a Jewish state. But it recognised that Jerusalem had special status and proposed international rule for the city, along with nearby Bethlehem, as a ‘corpus separatum’ to be administered by the United Nations.

That never happened. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it.

In 1980 the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the ‘complete and united’ city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. But the United Nations regards East Jerusalem as occupied, and the city’s status as disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

DOES ANY OTHER COUNTRY HAVE AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM?

In March Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, said that his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.

Netanyahu said in April that ‘at least half a dozen’ countries were now ‘seriously discussing’ following the U.S. lead, but he did not identify them.

In December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israelâs capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.

WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN NEXT? HAS JERUSALEM BEEN A FLASHPOINT BEFORE?

Since Trump’s announcement there have been Palestinian protests and wider political tensions.

Arab leaders across the Middle East have warned the move could lead to turmoil and hamper U.S. efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week border protest due to culminate on May 15, the day after the U.S. Embassy move and when Palestinians traditionally lament homes and land lost with Israel’s creation.

Although the clashes have not been on the scale of the Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, violence has erupted before over matters of sovereignty and religion.

In 1969 an Australian Messianic Christian tried to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque. He failed but caused damage, and prompted fury across the Arab world.

In 2000, the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, led a group of Israeli lawmakers onto the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. A Palestinian protest escalated into the second intifada.

Deadly confrontations also took place in July after Israel installed metal detectors at the complex’s entrance after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there.

  

 

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