US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Thursday attended a candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying there was “no better place” to celebrate this “historic decision.”
Friedman was joined at the ceremony in honor of the fifth night of Hanukkah by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what may be seen as tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested site.
At the beginning of his remarks, Friedman noted that it was the first time he had visited the Western Wall with Netanyahu, and said it may even be the first time the Israeli prime minister has visited the flashpoint religious site with any senior US official.
“I hope it’s the first of many more such occasions,” he said.
The Western Wall — the holiest place where Jews can pray — is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, which the international community does not recognize as sovereign Israeli territory. Therefore, foreign dignitaries very rarely agree to be accompanied by Israeli officials when they visit the site.
On December 6, 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but stressed that he was not taking a position on “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.”
Administration officials have since said that they cannot envision the Western Wall not being part of Israel in a future peace deal.
“There is no better place, and there is no better time, to observe the anniversary of President Trump’s historic decision than here at the Western Wall, on the festival of Hanukkah,” Friedman said.
The right place at the right time! A true blessing to light the Menora with @IsraeliPM at the #Kotel, just meters from where the miracle of #Chanukah occurred 2200 years ago, on the one year anniversary of President Trump's historic recognition of #Jerusalem as Israel's capital. pic.twitter.com/zl9WKXIs5Y
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) December 6, 2018
“Just a few meters behind where we now stand, some 2,200 years ago Jewish patriots reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Syrian Greeks, who had brutally suppressed the Jews from observing their religious practices at their holiest site,” he said, telling the story of the festival. “Today, we celebrate the president’s courageous act,” Friedman said.
Under Israeli sovereignty, “Jerusalem has become — perhaps for the first time in its long history — an open city where all religions may come and worship in peace,” he added.
Trump’s Jerusalem declaration was “Israel’s most successful, most significant, political victory since the recognition of the State of Israel by Harry Truman on May 14, 1948,” the envoy declared.
“In just one year we have seen how the president’s courageous decision has resonated throughout the world, as respect for the United States, and for Israel, has grown and flourished,” he went on.
“The world has come to understand how America stands with its allies, how it does not flinch from its enemies and how it no longer embraces a policy borne of wishful thinking, but rather follows a policy based upon truth.”
Many countries now see Israel “through a new lens,” he said, referring to new diplomatic and strategic alliances emerging in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.
Speaking after Friedman, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his “historic decision” to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for the administration’s staunch support of the Jewish state.
“It’s impossible to advance peace on the basis of lies, and any policy that is based on lies will end up clashing on the rocks of reality,” he said.
“President Trump, in a brave and real move, recognized what we know has existed here not only since the days of the Maccabees, but since the days of King David, 800 years earlier.
“In the recognition of Jerusalem, of our heritage and the link that that no other people and no other city have, President Trump simply spoke the truth, and truth is the basis for everything and the basis for peace.”
On May 14, the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move heavily protested by an overwhelming majority of countries.
Guatemala and Paraguay also relocated their embassies to the capital, though the latter has since moved it back to Tel Aviv. Other countries — such as Australia, Romania, Brazil, and the Czech Republic — have publicly toyed with the idea of moving their embassy to Jerusalem, but have not made final decisions on the matter.