Amy Wilentz is a longtime contributing editor at The Nation and former Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker. She’s also the author of a novel about Palestinians and Israelis, set in Jerusalem: Martyrs’ Crossing. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: Remind us what happened on Monday in Jerusalem and Gaza.
Amy Wilentz: Every day, Trump makes the world less safe. Monday was a big one. The Americans moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Israel Defense Forces killed at least 60 Palestinian protesters. That’s the very bland version of the news.
JW: The dedication seemed like a festival of religion and American politics, rather than a diplomatic event.
AW: Well, the President didn’t go. One wonders why; possibly he doesn’t like angry Palestinian protesters. So he sent his Jewish relatives into the fray: Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. Ivanka unveiled the plaque dedicating the American embassy in Jerusalem as if it were a headstone at a cemetery. The plaque has her father’s name prominently figured.
JW: The audience included leaders of the Jewish right in America.
AW: Among them was Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas mogul who’s been a huge Trump supporter. To my mind, he is single-handedly responsible for this grotesque change in US policy. He’s a giant contributor to the super PACs that funded Trump’s election. He supports conservative super PACs, both for the House and the Senate to the tune of $20 and $25 million for each. You could even say that there was a quid pro quo for this embassy: I give you $25 million, you move the embassy.
He has also offered to fund construction of the new embassy, because what we saw on television is just a temporary site. They’re going to build a huge new building, and Sheldon Adelson has offered to contribute to that construction. This will be the first time a private person has ever contributed money to a US government construction project.
JW: Seven presidents have refused pressure to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Why is that?
AW: Because Jerusalem is a contested city. The Palestinians claim it as theirs, the Muslims claim it as one of their holy cities, and of course the Jews claim it as one of theirs. But the hard right in Israel claims it as the unified and indisputable capital of Israel. That’s why the right in Israel has always wanted the Americans to move that embassy to Jerusalem. But American presidents until now have understood that peace is absolutely impossible between the Palestinians and the Israelis, if the Americans—by moving their embassy — declare Jerusalem to belong to Israel entirely, instead of being divided between the two peoples.