‘Making Israel great’: security tight as Trump’s transfer of US embassy to Jerusalem begins
US president’s unpopular decision to name the scared city Israel’s capital was met with widespread protests and Palestinians are threatening to breach the border en masse
For all the fanfare the Trump administration has planned – and contrary to President Donald Trump’s boasts – the new US embassy to be opened in Jerusalem on Monday will be a decidedly modest affair, and probably a temporary one.
Staff will only number about 50 or 60, compared with 800 at the compound in Tel Aviv where the embassy has been for years – until Trump threw out decades of international consensus to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Previous American policy called for the status of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, to be decided by a peace agreement between them.
The US ambassador, David Friedman, said on Friday that he will continue to split his time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He acknowledged that having a fully operational embassy in Jerusalem will take a long time. Government estimates have said up to seven years.
“We will start the transition as quickly as we can,” Friedman told reporters in a conference call from Tel Aviv. “I think there’ll be interim steps, probably a good number between now and the full transition.”
Friedman said nearly 800 people are expected to attend the opening ceremony, including private foreign delegations and a Washington contingent featuring Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner. Yet the “opening” will mainly consist of unveiling a plaque that says “US embassy” that will be attached to a building that has been a consular office in Jerusalem’s Armona neighbourhood for years.
Trump will address the audience through a video link.
As he did on Thursday evening in Elkhart, Indiana, Trump at his political rallies has bragged that he got a Jerusalem embassy built within months for a fraction of the cost of those completed under recent presidents – not mentioning the fact that an existing building was revamped for temporary use until a more expensive embassy can be built years from now.
The opening ceremony will be under tight security. The Israeli army said it would increase the number of troops surrounding the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to tackle Palestinian protests against the controversial opening.
Three additional infantry brigades will be deployed – two around the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
The move nearly doubles the number of fighting units currently serving, he said, without giving specific figures on troops to be deployed.
The announcement does not concern Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, where responding to protests is the responsibility of the police.
A signature campaign promise, Trump’s December announcement of the embassy move led to major protests in Gaza and the West Bank.
Palestinians consider the eastern part of the city as the capital of whatever state they may be allowed to create in the future.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to protest along the Gaza border on Monday, with the strip’s Hamas government voicing support in recent days for attempts to breach the fence.
“What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?” the organisation’s Gaza head Yahya Sinwar said, arguing Israel has never defined its borders.
Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting for seven weeks to be able to return to the historic land they were driven out of in 1948 to make way for Israel.
A 15-year-old teenager who was shot in the head on Friday died on Saturday evening, the health ministry in Gaza said. The death brought to 54 the number of Palestinians killed since clashes began on March 30, with hundreds of others injured.
No Israelis have been hurt.
Israel has vowed to use force to prevent any breach and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a pretext to carry out attacks.
On Saturday Conricus, said the rules of engagement had not changed.
The United Nations and the European Union have called for an independent investigation into the deaths, but the Jewish state has rebuffed them.
The US has defended its ally and accused Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields by encouraging them to protest along the border.
Separately on Saturday, Israeli aircraft carried out a number of strikes against what the army said was a Hamas attack tunnel near the Gaza border.
Agence France-Presse, Tribune News Service