U.S. Embassy In Jerusalem Opens As Mass Protests Take Place In Gaza

May 14, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 9:19 pm
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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see...

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With giant U.S. and Israeli flags projected onto a backdrop and in front of members of the Trump administration, the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem today. At the same time, on the border with Gaza, mass protests. Palestinian officials say Israeli troops killed more than 50 people. Israel says it was defending the border.

NPR's Peter Kenyon was at the embassy ceremony and joins us now. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's begin with something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at today's ceremony.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Today the most - the embassy of the most powerful nation on Earth, our greatest ally, the United States of America, today its embassy opened here.

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SHAPIRO: How did that fit into the larger message that we were hearing today from Israelis and Americans at the ceremony?

KENYON: Well, you can hear the pride in his voice. The message is essentially that this U.S. administration is very pro-Israel to the point of making this move that past presidents have shied away from. They all feared derailing Mideast peace efforts. And several European leaders tried to persuade President Trump not to do this either. But he seemed more attuned to public opinion polls in the U.S. that showed this move to be quite popular. Here in Israel, the message is one of projecting strength, being closer than ever to the U.S. You know, it wasn't long ago Trump made another move Israel has been calling for - pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement. So these are pretty heady days for many Jewish Israelis.

SHAPIRO: There are a lot of countries, including U.S. allies, that oppose this move. Run down who showed up to the ceremony and who didn't.

KENYON: Well, that's a good point. The delegation, American delegation, was led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. But really it was attendees such as Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka who got the most attention. There was also a Texas pastor who made headlines in at least one Israeli paper for past insulting comments he reportedly made about both Judaism and Islam. And to your point about who wasn't there, most international envoys and dignitaries stayed away. Yeah. And that was seen as a diplomatic rebuke to this move by Washington. There was an overwhelming vote in the U.N. in December opposing this embassy move. And there just remains a lot of skepticism about Trump's claim that it will make peace happen faster.

SHAPIRO: And of course we mentioned those violent protests at the border with Gaza. We're going to hear more from there elsewhere in the program. Tell us more about the Palestinian reaction to this.

KENYON: Well, there's been a lot of anger, many protests. The bloodiest were in Gaza - dozens of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops. And now, tomorrow is the day Palestinians mark the Nakba. That's their term for the catastrophe, which - by which they mean the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war. There have been diplomatic impacts. The Palestinian Authority for some time now hasn't been talking at high levels with Washington. They say they don't see a lot of reason to resume talks as long as the U.S. intends to keep giving concessions to Israel without getting any concessions from them in return.

SHAPIRO: And so the outlook for a peace deal, a two-state solution?

KENYON: Well, certainly Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital, it feels a lot farther away today. The Trump administration says it's still to be negotiated. Nothing's been finally settled. But Ambassador David Friedman tells NPR that Trump's goal with this embassy move was to effectively take Jerusalem off the table. And that's seen as a big blow by those who support the two-state solution.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking with us from Jerusalem on this day of the U.S. Embassy move to that city. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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