[Marchers wave Israeli flags at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City (Baz Ratner/Reuters) ]
Jerusalem: Israel launched celebrations on Sunday for the US Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, a move whose break with world consensus was underscored by the absence of most envoys to the country from a reception hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Monday’s slated opening of the new embassy follows from US President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision he said fulfilled decades of policy pledges in Washington and formalized realities on the ground, according to AFP.
The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in east Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the US Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.
“Tragically, the US administration has chosen to side with Israel’s exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths,” the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States said. The US Embassy move “gives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace,” it said in a statement.
Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the US move could now inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border, where Israel reinforced troops in anticipation of the embassy opening.
Most countries say the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a final peace settlement, and say moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.
Addressing dignitaries at the Foreign Ministry, including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the Israeli prime minister urged others to follow Washington’s lead.
Netanyahu said that “under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital.”
Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was decorated with roadside flowerbeds in the design of the US flag and posters reading “Trump make Israel great again.”
Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance. Among those present were delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will open their own Jerusalem embassies later this month.
Attending the Foreign Ministry gathering were representatives from Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, but none from western European Union states — suggesting a rift within the bloc over Trump’s Jerusalem move.
The EU mission in Israel tweeted on Friday that the bloc would “respect the international consensus on Jerusalem ... including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved.”
Outside Jerusalem’s ancient Damascus Gate, Israelis danced in another celebration on Sunday, marking the capture of the Old City from Arab forces in the 1967 Middle East War.
Hundreds of Israeli rightists entered Al Aqsa mosque compound, an icon of Palestinian nationalism and a vestige of ancient Jewish temples. Witnesses said some prostrated themselves in Jewish prayer, violating religious restrictions at the site and sparking scuffled with Muslim worshippers.
Israeli police said several people were forcibly removed and questioned.
The US Treasury secretary called the embassy relocation “a sign of the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries” and also referred to the US withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal, a move welcomed by Israel and some US Arab allies in the Gulf but lamented by other world powers.
Palestinians Plan Protest
The Palestinians plan to demonstrate against Monday’s inauguration from Arab districts abutting the Jerusalem site.
On the border with Gaza, Palestinians have also held protests as Israel prepares to mark 70 years since its creation, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of them were displaced from their homes.
More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the latest violence.
The Trump administration has sought to keep the door open to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy by saying the embassy move did not aim to prejudge Jerusalem’s final borders. The US consulate in the city, tasked with handling Palestinian ties, will remain.
Washington has not asked Israel to initiate peace moves in exchange for the embassy relocation, US Ambassador David Friedman told reporters on Friday: “There was no give and take with Israel with regard to this decision.”
The official opening of the US embassy, which will take place at 1pm local time (10:00 GMT) will be attended by an American delegation, which includes Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, who is also an adviser to the president.
'Why the Arab world is silent?'
Standing on the road opposite of Damascus Gate, Afaf al-Dajani, head of an orphanage association in the Old City, cut a lone figure in the early evening light as she looked at the thinning crowds of Jewish settlers.
"Of course we will suffer with this new embassy location. We already suffer from the presence of all these settlers, and I imagine the US embassy's new site will encourage more of this", she told Al Jazeera.
She took in a wavering breath as Israeli police mounted on soldiers clopped by.
"I don't understand why the Arab world is silent about all of this and are watching these events as if it is a movie in a cinema," she said. "Where are their consciences?"
But for Barham, the fate of the Palestinian residents of the city was clear since the Israeli occupation more than 50 years ago.
"We never relied on outside intervention or the Arab armies to come to our rescue. We understood that we would be alone in this battle against occupation", he said.
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