Palestinians protest; Israelis voice fears on move

Posted: December 7, 2017 at 3:39 a.m.
Updated: December 7, 2017 at 3:39 a.m.

Projected images of the flags of Israel and the United States illuminate the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday evening.

JERUSALEM -- In Gaza City, Palestinians burned photos of President Donald Trump while in Jerusalem, Jews celebrated by lighting the walls of the Old City with the colors of the American and Israeli flags.

The starkly different actions came after Trump on Wednesday made good on his pledge to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

As Palestinian officials talked of cutting ties with the United States or ending security cooperation with Israel, Israeli government ministers and opposition leaders alike welcomed the U.S. decision. Yet ordinary Israelis and supporters of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict expressed fears that the move would ignite a new round of violence.

Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, ran a photograph of Trump touching the ancient stones of the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site in the hotly contested Old City, under the headline, "Trump Alert." The article warned of a possible outbreak of violence as Israeli forces readied for protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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In the Palestinian territories, Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions, whose internecine battles have often been bloody and politically debilitating, came together to urge a public venting of rage against Trump.

In Gaza City, officials and residents wasted little time taking up the call to protest. By noon Wednesday, despite a downpour, hundreds of demonstrators burned American flags and posters bearing Trump's photograph, in a protest at the Unknown Soldier Square downtown. Hamas and Islamic Jihad called on Arab and Islamic leaders to cut ties with the United States and to withdraw from peace talks with Israel.

"The ball of fire will roll until an intifada will break out," warned Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, there were harsh words for Trump from Palestinians agitated at the idea that they were being forced into another period of conflict.

"We will never allow East Jerusalem to be taken away from us," said a retired farmer who gave his name as Abu Malik, 54. "Trump is a crazy man who knows nothing about politics. I think he should go back to making WWF videos, rather than making these dangerous decisions that will only bring more headaches and bloodshed to our region."

Maysa Hanoun, 20, a student at Al-Quds Open University, said she believed recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would set off a third intifada.

"He really doesn't know what he's getting himself into," she said of Trump. "The Palestinians will unite and raise hell."

It was left to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu's rivals and allies in Israel to assess Trump's plans, and all welcomed it, regardless of their views on how to achieve peace.

"Policies should not be dictated by threats and intimidation," said Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a center-left opposition party. "If violence is the only argument against moving the embassy to Jerusalem, then it only proves it is the right thing to do."

Avi Gabbay, the Labor party leader, congratulated Trump while hoping for "confidence-building measures which will reignite hope in the Middle East, and hope for a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians."

But Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the rightist Jewish Home party, said American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital "shows that Israel's strategic patience has paid off."

"We have been told again and again that if we want more acceptance, we have to cut off parts of Israel and hand them over to our enemies," he said, alluding to the land-for-peace approach to negotiations dating from the 1970s. "What we are learning is the contrary: The world respects strong countries who believe in themselves and looks down on countries willing to give up their homeland."

Israelis overwhelmingly say they favor international recognition of Jerusalem as their capital, but they did not seem in a particular hurry before this week.

"I do agree with recognition, but this should have been done with a wide and clear understanding between all the sides," said Alon Levi, 44, a manager for a chain of health food stores. "I am sorry to say I feel that a bomb is being thrown in order to divert from the real issues. I feel like this is an act resulting from the political interests of the leaders and is not in the interest of the two nations here, and peace."

Palestinians wave their national flag around burning tires Wednesday night in Gaza City. American and Israeli flags and photos of President Donald Tru...

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