Jerusalem • An American delegation including White House officials and major GOP donors officially opened the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, handing Israel a long-sought victory but touching off fresh clashes from outraged Palestinians.
The ceremony — attended by President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka — capped Trump’s pledge to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to offer diplomatic recognition to Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as its capital.
But the backdrop showed the messy repercussions unleased by the decision.
European allies offered more denunciations of the move as a serious blow to peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, who also view part of Jerusalem as its capital for a possible future state.
Near Jerusalem, at least two clashes broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinians protesters, the Associated Press reported.
And on the Gaza Strip border, deadly confrontations broke out Monday in the bloodiest day during a wave of Palestinian protests against Israel’s blockade of the area. In Cairo, the Arab League called a crisis meeting to discuss the “illegal” U.S. Embassy shift.
Even as the embassy ceremony unfolded, the call for afternoon prayers from a mosque in mostly Arab East Jerusalem could be heard.
For many Israelis, the official move of the embassy is a cause for huge celebration even though the shift was mostly symbolic — adding just a new embassy plaque to the existing Jerusalem Consulate.
Israel feels vindicated by the Trump administration’s decision to recognize its capital as Jerusalem. It declared sovereignty over the city 51 years ago following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, but most countries do not recognize Israel’s rule over the city, where a third of the residents are Palestinian. And most states say their embassies will remain in Tel Aviv until Israelis and Palestinians reach some sort of peace agreement.
“This is a hostile act against international law and against the people of Palestine,” said Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, speaking of the embassy move. “It places the U.S. on the side of the occupying power.”
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, started the proceedings by recalling the declaration of the state of Israel by then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion almost exactly 70 years ago.
“Seventy years later the U.S. is taking the next step of moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said. “Again the U.S. leads the way in taking this step.”
Trump will not attend, but he planned to address the high-profile crowd, including his daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and a host of political, religious and communal leaders, via live video linkup.
“A great day for Isreal,” Trump wrote in a tweet.
Present at the event were some top Republican backers, including GOP super donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. “This is an important event for all Jews,” said Adelson.
Trump has boasted at how he has managed to keep the costs down for the embassy move. At the event, only pretzels and water were served to some 800 guests.
At a celebratory breakfast earlier in Jerusalem, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called Trump the “Churchill of the 21st century.”
“He has reversed Chamberlain’s policy of capitulation and teaches the world that “the landowner has returned,” said Shaked at an event attended by members of the visiting White House delegation, making a reference to Britain’s prewar prime minister, Neville Chamberlain.
“Europe insists upon not learning from history,” Shaked added. “It closed its eyes to the strengthening of the Nazis; today it is choosing to close its eyes to the strengthening of Iran. In such a reality in particular, it is good that the leader of the free world is President Trump.”
A day earlier, at a special “Thank you America” event at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a crowd — including 250 visiting U.S. senators, congressmen, community and religious leaders — that Monday “will be a historic day for our people and for our state.”
“President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem affirms a great and simple truth: Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years. It’s been the capital of our state for the past 70 years. It will remain our capital for all time,” said Netanyahu, who later hosted members of the official White House delegation at a celebratory dinner.
Palestinians view it as a major betrayal of Washington’s decades-old role as a potential broker for a peace deal with Israel.
“Outside of the U.S. and a few other countries, most of the world is against this move,” said Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab faction in Israel’s parliament, who despite being invited to the opening ceremony is consciously objecting by boycotting the event.
“Most want to see peace created along the lines that existed in 1967,” he said. “This is a one-sided move that strengthens occupation and moves us further from peace.”
Palestinians planned to protest the move at events planned throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said that security forces were on high alert for what is expected to be a tense few days.
On Tuesday, Palestinians also mark the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” a term used for the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians seven decades ago upon Israel’s creation. The day also draws large protests.
But the largest demonstrations began Monday in the coastal enclave of Gaza, where there has already been several weeks of unrest with dozens of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers and more than 2,000 wounded. In Monday’s clashes, more than two dozen Palestinians were killed, Gaza officials said.
In Jerusalem, those who arrived to celebrate the opening of the new embassy dismissed claims that the move undermines the chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Traveling with the official delegation, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said that now was the “right time” to move the embassy.
“It’s been U.S. policy since 1995 and if you have a problem then need to take it up with God,” said Graham, referring to legislation approved by Congress. The legislation included a waiver allowing presidents to delay the move by six months at a time, which has been used by successive presidents until now.
“In a fractured Middle East now is the time for America to have Israel’s back,” said Graham. “If there ever are two states then maybe the Palestinians will make east Jerusalem their capital, only time will tell.”
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, asserted that moving the embassy from Tel Aviv is “a recognition of reality” that ends the United States and Israel “operating on a completely different wavelength.”
“Recognizing reality always enhances the chances for peace,” Bolton added.
The Washington Post’s Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.