With hundreds in attendance to celebrate the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, US President Donald Trump hailed the move as a recognition of the Jewish people’s ancient capital, while stressing his commitment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Exactly 70 years ago the United States under Harry Truman became the first nation to recognize the State of Israel. Today, we officially open the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations. It’s been a long time coming,” he said in a prerecorded video message.
“Almost immediately after declaring statehood in 1948, Israel designated the city of Jerusalem as its capital. The capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. So important,” Trump continued.
Noting that the city houses Israel’s main governmental facilities, Supreme Court, prime minister’s office and president’s home, Trump said that Israel, like other countries, had the right to declare its own capital.
“Yet for years we failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem,” he said. That changed last December 6, he said, when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Today we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem. And we’re opening it many, many, many years ahead of schedule,” he added.
Referring back to his December 6 recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, Trump said “our greatest hope is for peace.”
“The United States remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement,” he said, while reiterating his call for the existing “status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif,” to be preserved.
“We extend a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbors. May there be peace. May God bless this embassy. May God bless all who serve there. And may God bless the United States of America,” Trump said.
Following his video message, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump unveiled the new embassy seal.
“On behalf of the 45th president of the United States of America, we welcome you officially, and for the first time, to the embassy of the United States, here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Thank you,” Ivanka Trump said.
Speaking at the beginning of the ceremony was US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who welcomed the assortment of US lawmakers, Israeli ministers, religious leaders and other figures in attendance.
“[We] welcome you to the opening and the dedication of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, Israel,” he said to a standing ovation.
Friedman noted that the inauguration of the new embassy fell on the 70th anniversary of the day David Ben Gurion announced independence, with US president Harry Truman recognizing the nascent Jewish state some 11 minutes later.
“Truman later regretted that he waited so long,” Friedman quipped.
“Seventy years since that memorable event almost to the minute, the United States finally takes the next step. A step awaited, voted upon, litigated and prayer for for all these years, he said. “Again, the United States leads the way as the first nation to do so.”
While noting “so many have worked so hard and for so long to make this day come,” Friedman singled out Trump’s contribution to bringing the Jerusalem embassy about.
“Make no mistake, today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, the courage and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude, President Trump,” Friedman said.
Speaking shortly after Friedman was US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who declared “Jerusalem is indisputably the capital of Israel,” while wishing the new embassy would serve as a “magnificent tribute to peace.”
While the embassy opening was celebrated widely by Israelis, some 50,000 Palestinians were taking part in riots along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said dozens were killed and hundreds wounded in the violence, which the army said included gunfire at Israeli troops and included attempts to plant explosives on the border fence.