Palestinians are protesting in cities across the West Bank and Gaza Strip after President Trump announced Wednesday that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiate a process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement sparked a massive international backlash, with leaders of Britain, France, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, the Arab League and other nations all criticizing the move. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it an “important step toward peace.” We go to Ramallah to speak with Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician and scholar. She was elected an Executive Committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2009, becoming the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She also served as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Palestinians are protesting in cities across the West Bank and Gaza Strip after President Trump announced Wednesday that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiate a process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done. That is why, consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Despite his announcement, Trump, like past U.S. presidents, signed a waiver that keeps the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. This waiver has been signed by U.S. presidents every six months since 1995. White House officials say the waiver prevents a cut in State Department funding provided by the act until the new embassy is opened. The move is expected to take at least three years. Currently, 86 nations have their embassies in Tel Aviv. No country has an embassy in Jerusalem.
Control of Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli military seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and has occupied the territory ever since. Palestinians, however, have long seen East Jerusalem as the capital of their future country. Since 1967, the U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly have passed dozens of resolutions calling for Israel to end its occupation of East Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump’s order meant the United States had abdicated its role as a mediator in the Middle East peace process. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, quote, “President Trump just destroyed any policy of a two-state solution.” Abbas is in Jordan today for talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, who has come out strongly against the move.
AMY GOODMAN: In a rare rebuke, Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court said the order was “unjustified and irresponsible.” The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Trump had thrown the Middle East into a, quote, “ring of fire.” The announcement has also sparked a massive international backlash, with the prime minister of Britain, France, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, the Arab League and other nations also criticizing the move. Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, alone among world leaders, said publicly the move was an “important step toward peace.”
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] I would like to use this occasion to announce that we are already in contact with other countries which will issue a similar recognition. I have no doubt that the moment the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before then, there will be a movement of many embassies to Jerusalem. The time has come. Welcome to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish state of Israel. If you weren’t aware of that until yesterday, you are now. But we have been aware of it for 3,000 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Reuters reports the U.S. State Department privately asked Israel to temper its response to Trump’s announcement, in a memo, writing, quote, “While I recognize that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response. … We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on US facilities and personnel overseas.”
Minutes after Trump’s speech, American embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Germany and Britain issued security alerts. Hamas has called for a new uprising in the Palestinian territories and declared Friday a day of rage. Today, at checkpoint near Ramallah, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters. Clashes were also reported in East Jerusalem and at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet Friday to discuss the move.
For more, we go first to Ramallah, where we’re joined by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian diplomat and scholar, elected an Executive Committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, in 2009, becoming the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She also served as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Your response to President Trump’s move yesterday?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Thank you. Well, first of all, I think this is an outrageous move. It’s an irresponsible move. It’s the epitome of recklessness. It is something that not only violates international law, destroys the chances of peace, but also places the U.S. squarely on the side of lawlessness and illegality by becoming complicit in Israeli occupation and Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem, and therefore losing any standing or credibility to take part in any type of pursuit of peace. This is an act of supreme provocation. And the Palestinian people and all people of good conscience feel actually quite upset with this decision. And most people just can’t believe that one person can embark on such a course of action that has such serious ramifications throughout the region and the world.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Ashrawi, could you explain what you think the reason is for Trump having made this announcement now?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, there could be many, many reasons. One could be lack of knowledge of what’s happening, lack of depth of perception, lack of analytical skills. Another could be the team he’s put together, that is so incredibly pro-Israeli that they do not see—they do not make sense when it comes to approaching peace. It could be also that he has domestic problems, and this is another diversionary tactic for which other people will pay a very heavy price for a very long time, because he is in trouble. Or it could be because he wants to pander to what he calls his base—the extreme Zionist evangelicals or AIPAC and their ilk, the extreme-right-wing ideologues who are pro-Israeli. All these are no justification. All these are very flimsy and cheap excuses, frankly. And I don’t see how anyone who has any sense or any knowledge of the reality and the facts would embark on such a dangerous course of action.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ashrawi, how different is this from past presidents? I mean, Barack Obama had said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He signed the waiver every six months. President Trump said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And though a lot of media didn’t report it at first—they didn’t even realize what he had signed—in fact, he signed, once again, that six-month waiver. I watched Dan Shapiro, a man you probably know well, who was—
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —President Obama’s ambassador to Israel for years. And when he was asked on CNN what he thought, he said he didn’t think this was a bad idea. In fact, he thought the mistake was that Donald Trump had signed the waiver. Why not just follow through and move the embassy to Jerusalem? Your thoughts?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yeah, yeah. Well, now you’re seeing Dan Shapiro’s true colors. When he was ambassador under Barack Obama, he was trying to convey an impression that he was even-handed. But after he stopped being ambassador, he stayed in Israel. He’s an Israeli citizen. He’s working for an Israeli organization. And so, his true colors are out there. He is incredibly pro-Israel and Zionist, to the point where he’s trying to outdo Trump.
Now, with Barack Obama, I mean, he himself started on a course of action to stop settlement activities and to find a just peace. But then the Israelis took all sorts of preemptive actions in order to put him on the defensive, by calling him, you know, Muslim or anti-Israeli—he had to prove his credentials always to Israel—by saying he’s taking measures that would undermine American-Israeli relations and so on. So he spent—he backed down on the issue of settlements and Jerusalem, and he spent seven years of his tenure trying to prove he was good for Israel, to the point where he gave Israel more funding, more support, more military support, and committed pledges of $38 billion to Israel before he left office. But at the last minute, he actually took one step, where he refrained from vetoing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, that calls Israeli settlements illegal and calls on Israel to withdraw and to stop its settlement activities everywhere, including Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion after break. We’re speaking to Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician and scholar. When we come back, we’ll expand our discussion to East Jerusalem and here in New York. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.