Clashes, Airstrikes Follow Jerusalem Policy Change
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And of course this week, as we mentioned, President Trump announced he was reversing decades of U.S. policy and will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This set off protests of course across the Arab and Muslim world as well as in the Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza demonstrated and clashed with Israeli troops. Israel carried out airstrikes following rocket fire from Gaza. Two Hamas militants and two other Palestinians were reportedly killed, and demonstrations continue today.
NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks for being with us.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: And help us understand all over again about the timing of President Trump's announcement because this is something U.S. presidents face - what? - every six months?
ESTRIN: That's right. And President Trump had a deadline. The president, every six months, has to decide whether to sign a waiver and delay relocating America's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And presidents before him chose not to move the embassy. And actually, no country in the world has an embassy here because Israelis and Palestinians both say they deserve a capital in the city. And no country has wanted to take sides on that. This summer, Trump delayed the embassy move for six more months. This month, he faced another deadline, and he made this decision now.
SIMON: From what you can tell reporting so widely from that area of the world, why was the move so important to the president?
ESTRIN: Well, he wanted to keep his promise. He said during his election campaign that he would. And he says the actual embassy move will take years but he's taking a stand now. And he's acknowledging reality, he says, that Israel considers its capital to be Jerusalem. This is a really important issue to his evangelical base, to his pro-Israel base - though I must say this has never been a major issue in Israeli public discourse. This week, some Israelis I spoke to said - well, of course Jerusalem's our capital. It didn't occur to them, you know, that it wasn't or that it wasn't internationally recognized.
But there is this deep-seated feeling, Scott, among many Israelis that Palestinians don't believe Israel has a right to Jerusalem and that Trump's statements sent a message that Israel is here to stay. The Palestinian leaders say, you know, what we want for our future capital is East Jerusalem, where Palestinians in the city live. Israel captured that area in 1967, and Palestinians there never accepted Israeli rule.
SIMON: And what's the message of protest this week?
ESTRIN: Well, we're seeing a lot of protests yesterday and today as well. The Israeli military says hundreds of Palestinians have demonstrated today with rocks and firebombs, clashing with soldiers. Yesterday, as you mentioned, militants in Gaza launched rockets. There were Israeli airstrikes.
It's interesting that these demonstrations - though they have been scattered all over the West Bank and Gaza - there have been much fewer people out protesting compared to times of hostility in the past. And this is really amazing. I mean, we'd seen protests all over the Arab and Muslim world yesterday, from Pakistan to Algeria to Yemen, for Jerusalem. And here in Jerusalem, we've been seeing skirmishes but not the demonstrations at the levels we've seen in the past.
And I want to play you a piece of tape. Demonstrators were starting to gather in downtown East Jerusalem. And I went up to this man buying fruit from a food cart. I asked him what he thought.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
ESTRIN: He says, you know, these protests have been small because people feel it's not new, Israeli control of Jerusalem. The city has been - what he said - sold a long time ago. And people aren't tired. They're just fed up.
SIMON: You've reported that the Palestinian Authority leader is refusing to meet with Vice President Pence this month. Does this send a signal that this is the end of the U.S. being considered any kind of member of the peace process?
ESTRIN: That's what the Palestinians are saying. Abbas' diplomatic adviser says that the U.S. has crossed red lines by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Trump administration says it's preparing a proposal for peace. And the White House seems to think that that will still be possible after all this noise about Jerusalem dies out.
SIMON: NPR's Daniel Estrin speaking with us from Jerusalem. Thanks so much, Daniel.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.