Israel is bracing for a tense week after the U.S. Embassy officially opened in Jerusalem on Monday — a move that triggered vehement opposition from Palestinians. Protests turned violent in Gaza, where more than 50 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in clashes along the border fence Monday, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, making it the bloodiest day of demonstrations in the past six weeks of protests.
Overall, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and more than 4,000 have been injured since President Trump announced the embassy move early in December.
Observers of the conflict had predicted the tensions when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the move. The decision was branded “dangerous,” “catastrophic,” “irresponsible” and being “against international law” by countries usually considered U.S. allies, including France, Germany and Saudi Arabia.
Here’s a short recap of how we got to this point, which helps make clear why most other foreign governments are opposed to the embassy move.
Why do so many countries refuse to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
Until now, all 86 countries that have embassies in Israel locate them within Tel Aviv. It wasn’t always that way. As my colleague Adam Taylor explained, a number of countries had embassies in Jerusalem in the past but decided to move them to Tel Aviv after Israel passed a law in 1980 declaring Jerusalem the nation’s united capital.
Many countries dispute that this is the case because Palestinians also consider Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state they hope to establish. East Jerusalem is largely Arab.
The division dates back to 1948, when the United Nations announced that the British territory that was formerly known as Palestine would be split into two independent states: Palestine and Israel. Jerusalem was supposed to become an “international city.” That changed after Arab leaders rejected the split but lost in the subsequent Arab-Israeli war.
The “Green Line,” drawn in 1949, separated East and West Jerusalem, with Jordan taking control over the eastern part. Israel took it over less than two decades later, in 1967, in what is known as the Six-Day War.
So, is it only about Jerusalem?
No. The embassy move could make it even more difficult for Palestinians and Israelis to eventually agree on a solution to the conflict. That’s why Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra called Trump’s decision “a counterproductive step” in December.
“If we want to solve at some moment the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we need a two-state solution, and a one-sided step is not going to help,” Zijlstra said. Trump himself said in December that he remained committed to finding an “ultimate deal” on a possible two-state solution, even though Palestinians blamed him for having killed that possibility.
Some supporters of Trump’s decision argue that a two-state solution does not correspond with the realities on the ground and that both sides should look for different options. Although Trump does not appear to fully agree, Palestinians argue that the president’s decisions have emboldened those who are opposed to a two-state solution.
Why is a “two-state solution” so difficult to facilitate?
There are many reasons a two-state solution has so far failed to materialize, including reluctance on both sides to pursue talks. Wars between Israel and Hamas — the organization in control of Gaza that has been branded a terrorist group by the United States — have sown deep mistrust and created open hostility.
One reason a separate Palestinian state looks like a distant mirage is the spread of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and population growth within those settlements. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank grew by 25 percent.
Under international law, the settlements are deemed illegal, and they have drawn repeated criticism from the European Union and other governments. The Israeli government has nevertheless continued their expansion.
Whereas previous U.S. administrations opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements, Trump has been far vaguer. In February, he acknowledged that they could “complicate” the peace process. The leader of the Israeli settlers, however, has credited Trump for creating a “friendly new atmosphere conducive to settlement growth,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Settlers’ rapidly growing presence in East Jerusalem, along with Monday’s embassy move, indicates that while Trump may still float the possibility of a two-state solution, his actions are pointing into the opposite direction.