U.S. opens embassy in Jerusalem amid violence
President Trump and his top aides celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday amid deadly clashes along the Israel-Palestine border that marred what was supposed to be a celebratory occasion for the Jewish state.
The president’s elder daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, headlined the U.S. delegation that praised Trump for fulfilling a promise that none of his predecessors have.
“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it,” Kushner, a senior White House adviser, said at the ceremony from a stage flanked by American and Israeli flags.
The embassy move pleased the president’s pro-Israel supporters, such as Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who was on hand for the celebration.
But it further inflamed tensions with the Palestinians and renewed questions about the Trump administration’s ability to broker a peace deal in the Middle East.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed at least 52 Palestinians during protests along the border of the Gaza Strip, according to The Associated Press, the bloodiest day there since a 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Hamas, the extremist group that controls Gaza, and not Israel bears responsibility for the violence.
“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response,” Shah told reporters during a daily press briefing.
Trump did not attend the Jerusalem event in person, logistical and security concerns were rumored to have been factors in the decision.
But in a video message, he said the embassy move has “been a long time coming” after past presidents “failed to acknowledge the obvious,” that the city is the capital of Israel.
He also said the U.S. “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace” between Israel and Palestine.
“We extend a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbors,” Trump said. “May there be peace.”
A peace deal, however, seemed even further out of reach in the wake of the embassy opening, which angered Palestinians who want east Jerusalem as a capital for a future state.
Critics of the move in Europe and the Arab world said that it would make it more difficult for the U.S. to serve as a neutral party in future peace talks.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the embassy decision “contravenes international law” regarding the status of Jerusalem, which he said, “must be determined through negotiations … in order to achieve a just and lasting solution.”
The French diplomat also called on Israel to exercise “restraint” in responding to protesters.
Kushner disagreed about the cause of the violence, which stood in stark contrast to the VIP event just more than 40 miles away in Jerusalem.
“As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he said.
Other speakers did not make direct reference to the protests.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised troops “who are protecting the borders of Israel as we speak today,” but focused his remarks on the significance of the embassy move, calling it a “glorious day” for the Jewish people.
“We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” the Israeli leader said. “Thank you, President Trump, for having the courage to keep your promises.”
Regional experts were far less optimistic about the consequences of the move, which they said could impede the path toward peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East analyst under Democratic and Republican administrations, called the embassy decision “totally untethered from U.S. national interests.”
“When I met Jared for the first time I said that I wish my father-in-law had as much confidence in me as his had in him because he’s been given mission impossible on the peace process,” Miller tweeted, referring to Kushner. “Today that mission impossible is on steroids.”
The Palestinians cut off talks with the White House after Trump announced last December he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which he recognized as Israel’s capital.
The move broke with years of policy that said the city’s status should be negotiated in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, with the U.S. acting as a neutral arbiter.
The ceremony showed some of the political divisions that have deepened following the embassy decision.
Support for Israel has traditionally been bipartisan, but members of Congress who attended Monday’s event were all Republican. Trump administration officials were not expected to meet with Palestinian officials during their trip to the region.
But a handful Democrats back in Washington applauded the decision. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the move “long overdue.”
“Every nation should have the right to choose its capital,” Schumer said in a statement. “I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”
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