Israel, US Jerusalem festivities uncover EU rift

Israeli Bikers from the Israeli Harley Davidson group arrives to celebrate the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem outside the US consulate that will act as the new US embassy in the Jewish neighborhood of Arnona, on the East-West Jerusalem line in Jerusalem, Israel, 13 May 2018. [Abir Sultan/EPA/EFE]

US President Donald Trump succeeded in dividing EU nations ahead of today’s (14 May) opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic broke ranks with the rest of the EU by sending their envoys to a reception yesterday (13 May) hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to mark the US embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem.

No-show nations withheld comment.

Trans-Europe Express – After Iran, Trump counts his friends in Europe

US President Donald Trump pulled out from the landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal on 8 May, provoking Europe’s outrage at the official level, but also among the major opposition forces in many countries. What is more interesting is who supported him.

Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed. Among those present were delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will open their own Jerusalem embassies later this month.

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”.

Monday’s slated opening of the new embassy follows Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision he said fulfilled decades of policy pledges in Washington and formalised realities on the ground.

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.

Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the US move could 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 Jerusalem’s status 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.

“Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it’s the right thing to do,” Netanyahu said. “Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies.”

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”.

“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 Organisation 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.

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 scuffles 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.

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.

In a recorded speech released on Sunday, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri criticized Trump’s decision on the embassy, as well as the leaders of Muslim countries he said had sold out the Palestinians. He also said Israel’s Tel Aviv was Muslim land.

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.”

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe