One of the central points of contention in the Israel-Palestine conflict is the status of Jerusalem. The eastern part of the city lies outside of Israel’s original borders, and only became a part of the Jewish state after the Israeli military captured and annexed it in 1967. The ancient municipality is, of course, home to sites sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Thus, the Palestinian leadership would like the city to be divided — and for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Israeli government would prefer to maintain sovereignty over the whole thing.
For decades, the White House has refused to take a side in this dispute, so as to maintain the (obviously false) pretense that it is a neutral arbiter in the conflict. Therefore, the U.S. has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
But on Wednesday, President Trump decided to dispense with this policy. While refusing to declare Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel — and thus, taking no official stance on the underlying point of contention — Trump nevertheless opted to defy the entire international community, and to risk triggering violent unrest, so as to deliver a purely symbolic victory to a small (but influential) constituency within his party.
Riots and rocket fire ensued.
When Trump made his gesture Wednesday, he tossed a lit match onto a large pile of kindling. In the West Bank, Israel has subjected Palestinians to an ethnically discriminatory form of military rule for half a century. In Gaza, the Netanyahu government has maintained a decade-long blockade, a policy aimed at forcing the Islamist terror group Hamas from power over the region. The blockade has produced recurrent shortages of basic necessities. This humanitarian emergency has been exacerbated by a political crisis within Palestinian society: In hopes of toppling the Hamas government in Gaza, the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas cut funding for electricity to the area earlier this year. This has left Gazans bereft of reliable access to power, clean water, and medical supplies.
In response to the president’s announcement, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new uprising (or “intifada”) against Israel. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Al-Bireh Thursday, chanting, “Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine,” Haaretz reports. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza left at least 19 Palestinians wounded.
Meanwhile, multiple rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern Israel, according to reports from Israeli media. Most of these did not make it across the Israeli border — but one did, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In response, an IDF tank and aircraft attacked two so-called “terror posts” in central Gaza. The Israeli government holds Hamas responsible for the rocket attacks. As of this writing, it is unclear how many people were killed or injured in those strikes.