The official U.S. delegation to Israel to mark the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem is set to land in on Sunday. The delegation is headed by deputy secretary of state, John J. Sullivan, and will also include President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, along with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and 12 members of Congress.
Events will begin Sunday evening with a gala reception at the Foreign Ministry, which will be boycotted by most European Union ambassadors in Israel.
On Monday the official dedication ceremony will be held in the U.S. Consulate’s visa section in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood – which will then officially become the U.S. Embassy.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Friday that the decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, set to take place next week, wasn't made as part of a "give and take" with Israel, but rather based on "the interests of the United States."
Friedman spoke to reporters via phone on Friday afternoon, together with White House foreign policy adviser Victoria Coates. Friedman said in the briefing to journalists that "this is something that serves the United States. There is no give and take with Israel with regards to this decision."
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Friedman added that "there are people who are happy with the decision and people who are unhappy, but it's far too early to measure reactions. We are convinced this decision creates a platform and an opportunity to promote a peace process based on realities, not fantasies. We're sure it will create greater stability in the long run."
With regards to the Palestinian reaction, Friedman stated that "the Palestinians for decades had a veto over the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That was empowering leverage in a way that's not helpful." Friedman added that under Trump, "circumstances are changing. People have to get on board."
Coates said that the administration is monitoring reports about potential demonstrations and riots, but added that the recent wave of demonstrations and confrontations on the Israel-Gaza border are not related to any decision by the United States. "We support peaceful protests - but the key word here is peaceful. In Gaza there are many, many people protesting peacefully, but others flying kites with swastikas and setting fires," she said.
Coates said based on her experience with the Palestinians there was still significant interest in peace and a better life, and that Trump was working on this. She added they were optimistic that a significant process could move ahead.
The U.S also intends to relocate its ambassador's residence to Jerusalem as well, Friedman said, noting that his private residence is not approved for that purpose. He said that in the long run this was on the list of things to be done.
EU in Jerusalem
About 30 of the 86 ambassadors in Israel accepted the invitation to the Foreign Ministry reception Sunday evening in Jerusalem to be attended by Ivanka, Kushner and the U.S. delegation. Out of the 30 envoys that accepted the invitation, at least four are from EU nations - Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria and Romania - though Brussels has come out strongly against the U.S. move. The rest of the European delegates are not expected to attend, nor are representatives of Russia, Egypt or Mexico.
The entire Israeli cabinet will attend the reception, along with the chairs of the Knesset's different committees, all the members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the rest of the coalition MKs. This means that most of the members of the opposition (except for opposition chairman MK Isaac Herzog and the opposition members who are on the foreign affairs committee).
Unlike the gala, which is organized by Israel, no foreign envoys were not invited to the opening of the embassy, which is the responsibility of the U.S. administration, and only the highest level Israeli officials were invited, as well as chairs of the different Israeli parties. The chairwoman of Meretz, MK Tamar Zandberg, said she would not attend.
Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from East Jerusalem will protest the embassy move, which comes days ahead of Nakba Day. The head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Mohammad Barakeh vowed to "raise our voice against the U.S. policy, which supports the occupation and the settlements and kills the possibility of setting up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital within the 1967 borders."
March of flags
Before the embassy move, Jerusalem will host a "March of Flags", an event organized by the religious right and will see hundreds of youths marching through the center of the city, through the Old City and into the Western Wall. In recent years, there have been reports of racist incidents on the sidelines of the march.
Muslim shopkeepers in the Old City, who in the past had shuttered their shops, decided to keep them open this year. In previous years, the police had recommended they close them or even ordered them to do so. Left wing protesters will show solidarity with the shopkeepers. The police said Saturday that it will show "zero tolerance" towards any form of "verbal and physical violence."
Thousands are also expected to attend a religious event at the Tomb of Samuel, north of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Meanwhile still, events in honor of the "alternative" Jerusalem Day will also take place, to highlight the city's more tolerant side. Meanwhile, the government is set to approve a new plan to invest funds in East Jerusalem, including transferring offices to the predominantly Palestinian side of the city.
10:00 A.M. Special meeting of the cabinet to mark Jerusalem Day, at the Bible Lands Museum
12:30 P.M. Memorial ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who died on the way to Israel, Mount Herzl
5:45 P.M. Reception for the American delegation in honor of the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry
7:30 P.M. State ceremony in honor of Jerusalem Day, Ammunition Hill
10 P.M. Festive ceremony marking the unification of Jerusalem at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, Jerusalem with Netanyahu in attendance
4:00 P.M. Ceremony marking the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood