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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

US contemplates damage of 'embarrassing' day in Holy Land

Even as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reaffirmed on Tuesday that the status of Jerusalem would be part of final negotiations in any peace settlement, the fallout from Gaza could cripple American efforts in the short term.

The juxtaposition of global television coverage of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner smiling to the cameras at the US embassy opening on Monday as deaths from Israeli gunfire were mounting in Gaza was not what Washington had in mind.

"The events of yesterday look horrible, embarrassing and sad for the US ... this should have been a joyous moment for many, seeing a US embassy open in West Jerusalem," Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security told The National.

With dozens killed and more than 2,000 wounded, Mr Goldenberg said the US historic moment was upended by violence and far-right wing agendas on all sides.

"It shows how badly it was executed by the Trump administration," he said.

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"They could have picked a different day of the year, not coinciding with the Nakba, not on the eve of Ramadan, or they could have done it in a bipartisan fashion," he said, noting no Democrats from Congress attended.

The expert and former US official also faulted the response of the Trump administration after the killings.

"When almost 60 people are dead, perhaps it’s time to indicate that the use of lethal force was inappropriate."

Instead, Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said: "The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas". He added: "Israel has the right to defend itself."

On the peace process, Mr Goldenberg saw the fundamental shift in the US role happening when Mr Trump decided in December to move the embassy.

"Not because of the move itself but because it gave Palestinians nothing in return ... to offset this reaction. They decided to give Israel a huge gift."

The cycle of escalation and Mr Trump’s positions may finally spell the end of his team's ability to mediate the conflict, in the absence of a long talked of, but still absent, peace plan.

However Ghaith Al Omari, a fellow at the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, and a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, said all was not lost.

"The US mediation is not over, because only the US can mediate and everyone realises this," Mr Al Omari told The National.

"Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) heard this message in Russia, France. And it's the view of Jordan, and Egypt."

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The problem he argues is not the peace process that has been frozen in its tracks for a few years, but that "no one knows how to deescalate the situation".

"The Egyptians have tried to calm the situation and failed ... the Israeli dismissiveness does not help and they need to investigate, and US focus remains on improving the humanitarian situation."

There is no question that the embassy move played out very negatively for the US, but that could be put behind if calm is restored, argued Mr Al Omari.

But he added: "Proposing a US peace plan now would be a fool’s errand, the Palestinians are not ready, and the Arab states can't push them in this environment."

Arab states condemned the move and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait called for an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council.

Instead, Mr Al Omari said the US can spearhead an international effort to improve the situation in Gaza and improve security conditions in the West Bank.

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