It is inexcusable for soldiers of a military, especially those under democratic civilian control, to shoot and kill protesters, almost all of whom were unarmed, and who pose no credible threat. Yet at the boundary between Gaza and Israel today Israeli soldiers seem to have done just that. It should make Israelis quail that demonstrators were sprayed with live ammunition with apparent impunity. There were dozens of deaths and hundreds of maimings among the Palestinians who had marched to the border to make a point about their right to return to their ancestral homes. Israel’s army evinced no shame in committing what looks like a war crime. These are serious accusations. Yet they were greeted with little more than a shrug. By blockading Gaza, Israel imprisoned 2 million people behind barbed wire and military towers. Israel treated the violence as a jailer might a prison riot: a tragic fault of the inmates.
This is a dangerous mindset for Israelis to embrace. Yet they have done so because the extreme right in Israel, and most of the present government ministers, nurture the idea that Israel can, through its vastly superior military force, end the national aspirations of the Palestinians. These politicians take succour from US president Donald Trump, who has made good on his promise to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Today Mr Trump’s ambassador, who gave money to Jewish far-right groups in Israel, opened his nation’s new embassy in Jerusalem. This is a reckless and provocative step that will harm the prospects for peace. Like the issue of refugees, settlements and borders, the status of Jerusalem is unfinished business. No state is internationally recognised as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. Its status was meant to be determined through negotiations.
In siding with Israel Mr Trump signalled the end of any pretence that his administration might be an honest broker in the conflict. Any peace talks overseen by Mr Trump’s team are likely to fail before they begin. The US president will learn what happens when the facts he has created on the ground collide with reality. What will happen to the 300,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem? Are they all to be herded into enclaves and deprived of their human rights, their land confiscated? Will this be done because of the “truth, peace and justice” that Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel believed in as he welcomed the US ambassador to Jerusalem? Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu have galvanised a people who had been steeped in despair.
In taking Jerusalem off the table, the only inviolable demand Palestinians feel they have left is the right of return. Palestinians see the flight or expulsion of refugees at the time of the creation of Israel 70 years ago this week as their catastrophe or nakba. Israelis retort that implementation of the right of return is incompatible with the survival of a democratic Jewish majority state. The issue is now on the lips of every Palestinian. The conflict in the Holy Land is not a zero-sum game, where there is just one winner. The opposite is more likely to be true. Either both will fail – and continue with one civilian population humiliating and terrorising the other. Or they find a way to live side by side in two states, one that affords each people their own independence and security. If happily such an outcome was achieved, it would make sense for west Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital. This is obvious to everyone but Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu, who instead have capitulated to a vision of brutal domination over a benighted people