Jerusalem Embassy Anniversary Marked with Trump Tweet, Arab Silence
U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday the transfer of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem a year ago was the fulfillment of a key promise of his election campaign.
“Today marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel,” Trump said in a celebratory tweet highlighting the move. “Our beautiful embassy stands as a proud reminder of our strong relationship with Israel and of the importance of keeping a promise and standing for the truth.”
Trump’s move of the embassy from the Israeli commercial hub of Tel Aviv to the seat of its government in Jerusalem, which he recognized as Israel’s capital in December 2017, was a major U.S. foreign policy shift cheered by the Jewish state. But, the transfer was opposed by leaders of Arab and other Muslim-majority nations who warned it would provoke regional violence and threaten international security.
The U.S. embassy milestone drew no reported street protests or denunciations from leaders in the Middle East on Tuesday, one year after its opening on May 14, 2018. International media coverage of the anniversary was scant, with the Associated Press and the New York Times being the only major outlets to file a report specifically on the topic.
Trump had made transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a key part of his foreign policy platform as a candidate for the 2016 presidential election, vowing to follow through on a move that several of his predecessors also had pledged to make as election candidates but declined to execute once in office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the anniversary by attending a ceremony at a Jerusalem hotel, organized by a prominent U.S. Christian evangelical pro-Israel activist who founded the Friends of Zion Museum in the Israeli city. Speaking to an audience that included U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu reiterated his view that Israel has had “no better friend in the White House” than Trump.
Prior to the U.S. move, no other country had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and placed its embassy there, preferring instead to wait for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve its status in a peace deal. Palestinians claim the predominantly Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem, captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel annexed that sector to what it called its “united and eternal” capital.
Referring to Trump having broken the international consensus on Jerusalem, Netanyahu said: “Nobody moves the embassy, and nobody recognizes Jerusalem until someone comes, [someone] who is politically incorrect, brash and unabashed, and one day, out of the blue, says, ‘that’s right. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and I recognize it’. And that is what President Donald Trump did.”
The Ramallah-based Palestinian government’s WAFA news agency posted a Tuesday report saying its longtime chief negotiator Saeb Erekat met an American delegation in Ramallah and criticized U.S. and Israeli policies as “consolidating the occupation and apartheid regime” – a reference to Israel.
In another article published Tuesday, WAFA called the U.S. embassy move an “appalling” decision, noting that it happened on the same day as a deadly confrontation between Israeli forces and 40,000 Palestinian protesters in Gaza, which is ruled by the Hamas militant group.
Urged by Hamas to protest the U.S. move and join a “March of Return” to Israeli territory the group claims as Palestinian, the demonstrators rallied near the border with Israel on May 14, 2018, with some approaching the fence, throwing stones, hurling firebombs and trying to breach it.
Israeli snipers opened fire from the other side of the fence, killing about 60 Palestinians, including several children, and wounding hundreds. A Hamas official later said 50 of those killed were Hamas activists.
Human rights groups accused Israel of violating international law by using lethal force against what they said were unarmed protesters. Israel said its forces opened fire to prevent a mass border breach by rioters and in response to a shooting attack by Hamas gunmen in the area. Washington said Israel had a right to protect its border.
While Gazans have staged almost weekly and sometimes violent protests at the Israeli border and carried out several rounds of rocket strikes on Israel over the past year, there have been no similar and frequent mass anti-Israel protests or attacks originating in other Arab nations.
“It just shows that the Arab world wants to move forward with Israel and toward peace,” said Elad Strohmayer, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, in a VOA Persian interview on Tuesday. “We had a historic visit of our prime minister to Oman [in October 2018] and we are looking forward to enhancing our relationship with the Arab world,” he said.
Israel, which has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, has been increasing its contacts with other Sunni Arab states who share its concerns about Shi’ite-majority Iran’s efforts to gain regional influence through support of proxy militias.
Israeli leaders had expressed hope that more countries would follow the Trump administration in transferring their embassies to Jerusalem, but only Guatemala has done so and kept its mission in the city. Paraguay moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018 but withdrew it in September.
Leaders of some EU nations, Brazil and Australia have expressed interest in moving embassies to Jerusalem in the past year, but none have followed through.
However, Hungary broke with a European Union consensus in March by opening a Jerusalem trade mission that it calls an extension of its embassy in Tel Aviv. It was the first European mission with diplomatic status to be opened in Jerusalem in decades.
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Afshar Sigarchi contributed from Washington.