“May there be peace,” he said.
There was not.
At the same time, along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, a humanitarian nightmare was unfolding. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were protesting not only the opening of the embassy but also the desperate decline in living standards in Gaza. Near Gaza City, protesters were urged by organizers to breach the fence to enter Israel. Israeli soldiers responded with not just tear gas and rubber-coated bullets but also live ammunition.
At least 55 Palestinians were confirmed dead and 2,400 wounded at the time of writing, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, making Monday the bloodiest day in the enclave since the 2014 war with Israel.
The two simultaneous events created a jarring juxtaposition. On social media and cable news, footage of Trump administration officials laughing and celebrating with Israeli leaders appeared next to footage of largely unarmed protesters in Gaza wounded or dying as the result of Israeli gunfire.
The images threatened to spark chaos in the region, and perhaps further afield. South Africa and Turkey have so far recalled their ambassadors to Israel, according to reports. (Ankara also withdrew its ambassador to Washington.) The U.S. military has sent additional Marines to guard a number of embassies in the region.
There is certainly plenty of Palestinian anger at Trump's decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He did so while recognizing the ancient city as Jerusalem's capital, causing outrage among Palestinians who believe he is ignoring their own claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
But the main reason for the current protest movement is the dire living conditions inside Gaza. Both Israel and Egypt have blockaded the territory since 2007, and border-crossing points between Gaza and its neighbors are virtually sealed. As a result, the Gaza Strip's economy has all but crumbled. People's lives are coming to a standstill as they lose jobs, educational opportunities and any semblance of hope for the future. For weeks, people have been taking out their anger by attending protests that frequently turned violent.
“Young people have nothing to lose,” one Palestinian told The Washington Post's Loveday Morris and Hazem Balousha last month.
No matter why they are protesting, though, the sight of Palestinians being shot dead on Trump's big day in Jerusalem will be a problem for the United States — and his reaction probably won't help. Trump, ever alert to news coverage, implored his Twitter followers on Monday morning to watch Fox News's live airing of the embassy opening.
But as cable news coverage began shifting to the violence in Gaza, the administration had little response. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “turned his back and walked away” when asked about the scenes, according to CNN reporter Michelle Kosinski. At Monday afternoon's White House press briefing, deputy communications director Raj Shah called the day's bloodshed a “gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt” by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.
Even before Monday's violence, the Trump administration's handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict was causing regional problems. Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, said he had recently traveled in the region and believes Trump's actions have undercut attempts to build closer ties with U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
“Because the move doesn't yet seemed to be linked to any clear strategy aimed at resolving the conflict, it exposes these partners to criticisms from their own publics as well as their regional adversaries like Iran,” Katulis wrote to Today's WorldView in an email.
Even among those who support Trump's embassy move, there was discomfort at the way the administration has handled the issue. Dan Shapiro, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, has spoken out in favor of the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Speaking by phone on Monday, however, he said that the Trump administration had missed an opportunity to announce the embassy move as part of a broader two-state peace plan that would have made clear Jerusalem would be the Palestinian capital, too.
The decision to hold the embassy opening on Israel's Independence Day — and just before the day known to Palestinians as Nakba Day, which commemorates the mass expulsions of Arabs that accompanied Israel's founding — was also a mistake, Shapiro argued. “The date was unnecessarily provocative,” he said. If it had happened just a week or two later, “it could have had some separation from the most sensitive and emotional date on the Palestinian side.”
The prospects for Trump's promised but still-undelivered peace plan were already looking dim, Shapiro admitted. Now things are probably even worse. He believes neither Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or Israel's Netanyahu can deliver a peace process right now, and "it may be that it would now require a change in leadership on the American side, too."
Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, sounded an even more pessimistic note. The Trump administration, he argued, is now “unapologetically supportive of Israel's denial of Palestinian rights, dropping all pretenses of peacemaking.” But is there anything the Trump administration could do to regain the trust of Palestinians?
“No,” Munayyer responded, “you can't expect the arsonists to put out the fire.”
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