Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have arrived in Israel for the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, an event that is due to be met with widespread protests by Palestinians and others opposed to it.
Donald Trump’s eldest daughter arrived as part of the official US delegation, technically headed by deputy secretary of state John Sullivan, and containing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and 12 members of Congress.
While Mr Sullivan may be heading the US party on paper, most eyes will be Ms Trump, 36, who is effectively representing her father, whose decision to break with years on international diplomatic agreements and shift the embassy to Jerusalem, infuriated many, but pleased Republicans and his evangelical supporters. The ceremony was brought forward to coincide with Monday’s 70th anniversary of the nation’s declaration of independence.
“We look forward to celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary and the bright future ahead,” Ms Trump wrote on Instagram. “We will pray for the boundless potential of the future of the US-Israel alliance, and we will pray for peace.”
Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state. The international community had for decades said the future of Jerusalem should be part of a broader deal between Israel and the Palestinians and with few exceptions, almost ever other country has located their embassy in Tel Aviv.
The Associated Press said the official dedication ceremony will be held in the US Consulate’s visa section in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, which will then officially become the US Embassy.
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US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who met the US delegation at Ben Gurion International Airport, said on Friday the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, was not made as part of a “give and take” with Israel, but rather based on “the interests of the United States”.
“We look forward to celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary and the bright future ahead,” Ms Trump wrote on Instagram ahead of the opening, which will take place on Monday, seven decades since the country declared independence. “We will pray for the boundless potential of the future of the US-Israel alliance, and we will pray for peace.”
Ms Trump, a White House adviser, and her husband, Mr Kushner, who has been tasked with brokering a Middle East peace deal, later attended a gala dinner on Sunday evening ahead of the event on Monday.
The inauguration of the embassy will help harden Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of Washington as a future mediator in the conflict with Israel, the AP said.
Underscoring the conflict’s volatility, thousands of Gaza residents plan to march on Monday towards Israel’s border and possibly breach it in an attempt to break a decade-old blockade of their territory.
Israel has vowed to stop any breach by force, raising the possibility of major bloodshed at a time when Mr Trump’s daughter and son-in-law preside over the embassy ceremony less than 50 miles away.
Protests erupt after Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. It annexed the eastern sector to its previously declared capital in the western part of the city, a move not recognised at the time by the US and most other nations.
The fate of the city has been a central issue in years of intermittent negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, taking a harder line than two predecessors, has said he will not give up any part of Jerusalem, home to 883,000 people, 38 per cent of them Palestinians. Mr Abbas wants east Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state that would include the other war-won territories, the AP said.
It was last December that Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he was simply acknowledging reality, while omitting any mention of Palestinian claims to the city. “Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do,” he said.
“After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
Commentators pointed out that while Mr Trump said at the time he was not taking a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty that are to be determined in negotiations, a month later he told Mr Netanyahu he had taken Jerusalem “off the table” and that “we don’t have to talk about it anymore”.