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US Embassy moves to Jerusalem; dozens killed in Gaza protests

Updated May 14, 2018 - 5:05 pm

JERUSALEM — U.S. Ambassador David Friedman welcomed some 800 guests to the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday in a ceremony that thrilled the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and kept a key campaign promise made by President Donald Trump.

But the move was condemned by Palestinian leaders and sparked mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday. Dozens were killed after Palestinians rushed the border in the deadliest exchange in recent weeks between Palestinians and Israel’s Defense Forces began.

By late afternoon, at least 55 Palestinians, including five minors, were killed in the deadliest day there since a devastating 2014 cross-border war. More than 1,200 were wounded.

Trump did not attend Monday’s embassy ceremony, but he did address the group by video. Trump repeated his assertion that moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a “nod to reality” and said he remains committed to “facilitating a lasting peace agreement” between Israelis and Palestinians.

When Friedman thanked Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy there, a few guests in the crowd of Americans and Israelis chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump.”

Netanyahu also saluted Trump’s courage in delivering on a campaign promise made — then broken — by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The crowd also chanted his nickname, “Bibi, Bibi, Bibi.”

The ceremony was something of a family affair for the Trumps. Daughter Ivanka and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner led an American delegation that also included the treasury secretary and four Republican senators.

The dedication gave the world a rare chance to see and hear Kushner speak at length and in personal terms. Kushner said he stood on the stage “as a proud American and grandson of Holocaust survivors.”

Kushner, who has been tasked with brokering a “deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians, said that in the future people would look back on this day and realize, “the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth.”

However, Monday’s steadily climbing death toll and wall-to-wall condemnation of the embassy move by the Arab world raised new doubts about Trump’s ambitions to broker a deal.

“This infamous hostile act against international law and against the people of Palestine places the US on the side of the occupying power, Israel, which continues to oppress the Palestinian people and to colonize their lands towards destroying the very possibility of reaching a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said in a statement.

In Gaza, the Hamas-led protest was meant to be the biggest yet in a weeks-long campaign against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The Israeli military estimated a turnout of about 40,000, saying this fell short of what Hamas had hoped for.

The march was also directed at the inauguration of the embassy. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.

“Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will be a disaster for the American administration and a black day in the history of the American people because they are partners with the occupation and its aggression against the Palestinian people,” said Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas figure.

However, a group of Republican senators who attended Monday’s ceremony disagreed. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Dean Heller, R-Nev., held a press conference Monday at which they praised Trump for transferring the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It brings us where we are today,” Heller said. Graham maintained that the move makes a peace pact between Israelis and Palestinians more likely.

Taking note of the climbing death toll in the Gaza protests, Heller told the Review-Journal that “We’re all praying we don’t have these kinds of incidents.”

In a room packed with GOP politicians, the absence of Democratic elected officials revealed an amazing partisan divide. Only last June, the Senate passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act by a 90-0 vote.

Asked about the lack of Democratic Senate or House members at the embassy ceremony, Graham said he invited colleagues from the other side of the aisle. “It hurts me,” Graham said, that “not one Democrat came.”

Former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who also attended the ceremony, told reporters he did not understand why no Democrats presently serving in Congress had attended, as they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Jerusalem Embassy Act when it first passed in 1995.

The new embassy will temporarily operate from an existing U.S. consulate, until a decision has been made on a permanent location.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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