At July 4 party, Netanyahu says he’ll keep ‘open mind’ on Trump peace plan
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At July 4 party, Netanyahu says he’ll keep ‘open mind’ on Trump peace plan

Embassy’s annual Independence Day event held for first time in Jerusalem; US envoy David Friedman hails ‘historic gathering’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and his wife Tammy at an American Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and his wife Tammy at an American Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed to keep an “open mind” about the White House’s much expected peace proposal, while chastising the Palestinian leadership for rejecting the plan even before its publication.

During his  speech at the US Independence Day party in Jerusalem — the first-ever in the capital — Netanyahu thanked Bahrain for hosting an American-led economic workshop last week that unveiled the first portion of the administration’s peace plan.

“It was encouraging to see numerous Arab governments participate in the workshop, despite Palestinian efforts to undermine it,” Netanyahu said.

The Palestinian Authority boycotted the conference and encouraged other countries not to take part either.

“The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” he said, citing a often-quoted bon mot attributed to Israel’s legendary foreign minister Abba Eban.

“They just did another one. Again the Palestinian leadership held the prosperity of their own people hostage to their ideology against Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope the Palestinian leadership chooses a different course. I hope that instead of rejecting President Trump’s peace initiative, even before they’ve seen it, they should keep an open mind about it. That’s certainly what I’m going to do,” he went on.

The prime minister said he was looking forward to working with US President Donald Trump and his team to “advance peace, prosperity and security.”

“Security comes first but peace and prosperity can come, too, if there’s a willingness finally on the Palestinian side to abandon the goal of destroying Israel and once and for all to recognize the Jewish state. That’s the problem and that’s the solution,” he said.

Addressing the hundreds of guests before Netanyahu, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called the event, held in capital’s International Conference Center, “one of the preeminent 4th of July parties in the entire world.”

Both Netanyahu and Friedman noted in their speeches the significance of it being the first time in history that the United States celebrated its annual Independence Day festivities in Jerusalem.

The US envoy went as far as describing the event as a “historic gathering.”

“America’s physical beginnings may be traced back to Plymouth Rock, Valley Forge, the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the 4th of July or other important points of historical reference,” Friedman said.

“But America’s spiritual beginning, its bedrock foundational principles, its understanding of the God-given rights of every human being — that beginning occurred with, in the words of Isaiah, ‘the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,’” he said.

“That’s why it is so incredibly special to celebrate with you this evening the signing of the Declaration of Independence for the first time from the city of Jerusalem.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and his wife Tammy at an American Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Although Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December of 2017, last year’s US embassy July 4 event took place in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv.

The fact that this year’s celebration took place in Jerusalem may have had to do with an explicit request that Netanyahu made during the 2018 celebration.

“David, I have one message for you. I have one request: Next year in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at the time. “This is a fine and beautiful hall, immaculately done. Next year in Jerusalem, right next to the American embassy. There can’t be a more glorious gathering with greater friends.”

Last year, Russia became the first country to hold its annual national day celebration in the city, marking Moscow’s recognition of “Western Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital the previous year.

At the event, which was attended by Netanyahu, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov stressed that his government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital was contingent on the eastern part of the city becoming the seat of a future State of Palestine after a peace deal is reached.

This year, the embassy held its Russia Day celebration in Tel Aviv.

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