Israel has doubled down against the United States’ decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem by ignoring orders to move the US Consulate from East Jerusalem and planting trees in an area controlled by Israeli settlers.
The Israeli authorities were reported on Tuesday to have removed hundreds of trees in the old city area of Silwan to reduce the size of a rocky hill where a US consulate office is located. The Obama administration had previously requested that the consulate’s move be postponed until after the May elections in Israel.
But the planning authority issued a final instruction on 30 May to remove the trees for a site that critics have said the ministry of public works does not own.
The trees were likely chopped down by private workers from the Jerusalem municipality, rather than by a government-appointed contractor. The site is situated next to the neighbourhood of Silwan and owned by Silwan Housing Association.
The Israeli embassy in Washington had ordered the delay to the relocation of the US consulate until after the parliamentary elections. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the move as a “great achievement” for the campaign of his rightwing Likud party, which won the most seats in the elections.
The Palestinians continue to assert the religious, moral and political importance of Jerusalem and the eastern part of the city, which they claim as the capital of their state. The US embassy in Jerusalem will eventually be in Tel Aviv, but the Trump administration has given no indications that it plans to abandon its Middle East policy and move the embassy to East Jerusalem.