Palestinians say embassy move ‘provocative’ as US announces May date

Erekat notes timing of planned opening of US embassy in Jerusalem coincides with Nakba, while Abbas spokesman says it will ‘obstruct’ peace; Hamas warns of ‘explosion’ in region

A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock shrine in the center, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock shrine in the center, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The Palestinian Authority on Friday responded in anger to news that the US administration plans to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, and said “unilateral” moves will not contribute to achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

Hamas, for its part, warned that the decision would lead to an “explosion” in the region.

Palestinian chief negotiator and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat dubbed the decision announced earlier Friday a “flagrant violation of international law and agreements” signed between the Palestinians and Israel. The decision will “destroy” the two-state solution, he cautioned.

The State Department confirmed Friday afternoon: “We are planning to open the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.” US President Donald Trump stressed Friday that foreign countries begged him, “Don’t do it, don’t do it,” but that it was “the right thing to do.”

Denouncing the move as “provocative to the feelings of all Arabs and Muslims,” Erekat pointed out that the US administration’s date for moving the embassy to Jerusalem coincided with the Nakba anniversary.

Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) is the word used by Palestinians to describe the establishment of Israel in 1948. The US is set to redesignate its Arnona consular facility in southern Jerusalem as its embassy on May 14 — precisely 70 years after Israel declared independence. (Israel celebrates its anniversary of independence according to the Hebrew calendar; Independence Day — Yom Ha’Atzmaut — falls on April 19 this year.)

“We condemn this decision in the strongest possible terms,” Erekat added. “This decision affirms that the US administration has removed itself from playing any sponsorship role in the peace process. Because of such decisions, the US has become part of the problem and therefore can’t be part of any solution.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for the PA presidency in Ramallah, said “Any step that is not consistent with international legitimacy would obstruct any effort to achieve a settlement in the region. It will also create harmful and negative climates.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Flash90)

Abu Rudaineh said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the United Nations Security Council this week was “the only serious key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world.”

A just and comprehensive peace, the PA spokesperson added, could be achieved “only on the basis of international resolutions (pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict) and the foundations of the peace process, namely the two-state solution, whereby an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem would be established on the 1967 borders.”

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Kanou responded to the US decision by saying it “won’t change the facts and features” of Jerusalem.

“The decision will not give Israel any legitimacy,” the Hamas official said. “Nor will it change anything in the city. This decision will serve as a trigger for an explosion of the entire region in the face of Israel.”

The US State Department notified Congress on Friday that the Jerusalem embassy will open in May, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring independence.

Israel proclaimed independence on May 14, 1948. According to Channel 10 and Hadashot news, a ribbon-cutting ceremony could be held on May 14 to honor that date.

The May opening marks a significant acceleration. Vice President Mike Pence had said previously the embassy would open by the end of 2019, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said it could take years.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state and local officials on school safety in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

US President Donald Trump said Friday that moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was “the right thing to do.”

Trump was addressing his decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He said foreign countries put pressure on him not to move the embassy and begged him, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.”

Trump said the campaign against moving the embassy was “incredible,” but that the campaign in favor was also incredible. He said that ultimately, his administration “did the right thing.”

Trump’s December declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing plans to relocate the embassy there was met with worldwide condemnation. That same month the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the administration’s move and calling on countries not to move their diplomatic missions to the city.

Relations between the US administration and the PA have been strained since Trump’s December 6 announcement.

Abbas and senior PA officials have since stated that the US was no longer qualified to play any role in a Middle East peace process because of its “bias” in favor of Israel, and the PA has refused all substantive contacts with the Trump administration.

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