Seventy years to the hour after the United States became the first country to recognize the independent state of Israel, the US became the first country to move its embassy back to Jerusalem during an 80-minute ceremony at the former consulate building in the capital on Monday.
“What a glorious day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Remember this moment. This is history. President [Donald] Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history. All Of us are deeply moved. All of us are deeply grateful.”
Even as he spoke and some 400 invited guests were revelling in the occasion, violence raged some 100 km. to the south on the Gaza border.
Netanyahu alluded to this only briefly in his 10-minute remarks. “Our brave soldiers are protecting the borders of Israel as we speak today,” he said. “We salute them all, and the members of our security forces.”
Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner also alluded to the violence in his remarks, saying, “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Netanyahu, in his remarks, wed his own personal experiences in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood where the embassy will be temporarily located, with the significance of the moment.
“For me, being here brings back wonderful memories from my childhood,” he said, recalling that his first three years were spent on a street not far away, and that he played in the open fields near where the embassy now stands with his brother, Yoni.
“I would approach this place right here, but only so far, because my mother told me, ‘You can’t go any further.’ This was near the border. It was exposed to sniper fire. That was then. This is now, today,” he said.
“Today, the embassy of the most powerful nation on earth, our greatest ally, the United States of America, today its embassy opened here.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump for “having the courage to keep your promises.”
He said that this was a great day not only for Israel and America, but also for peace, because truth and peace are interconnected.
“A peace that is built on lies will crash on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality,” he said. “You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state.”
Trump, in a brief recorded message played on a large screen, told the gathering, “Congratulations. It’s been a long time coming.”
He noted that the US had for years, “failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.” This changed, he said, with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
“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 said, to applause.
Trump stressed that Washington remained committed to facilitating a “lasting peace agreement,” and reiterated a call to preserve the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, “including at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”
“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,” he added.
Following this video, US Ambassador David Friedman -- who was instrumental in pushing for the move and whom Netanyahu pointed out will now have the distinct honor of being “the first American ambassador to serve your country in Jerusalem” – called upon Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to unveil the large white embassy seal on a wall of the building.
“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.
Kushner opened up his remarks by saying he was “so proud to be here today in Jerusalem, the eternal heart of the Jewish people.”
He also noted that the city “means so much” to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
“While the challenges to peace are numerous, I have personally seen that the determination of the leaders in the region and throughout the world remains steadfast,” he said of his efforts to forge a peace deal. “They have seen too much pain, sorrow, and wasted opportunity, and they think it’s time to try something better.
“As Israel turns 70, the search for a lasting peace turns over a new leaf -- one of realism and of not being afraid to stand strongly with our allies for what is good, for what is right, and for what is true...When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth,” he said.
“The pursuit of peace is the most noble pursuit of humankind,” he continued.
“I believe peace is within reach if we dare to believe that the future can be different from the past, that we are not condemned to relive history, and that the way things were is not how they must forever be. It will not be an easy road and it will be filled with difficult moments and tough decisions, but if we dream big, if we lead with courage, we can change the trajectory for millions from hopeless to boundless.”
Kushner was cheered when he mentioned Trump’s decision last week to exit the Iran nuclear agreement. He also was cheered at the mention of the name of Vice President Mike Pence, new National Security Advisor John Bolton, and especially US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
In his address, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked Republicans and Democrats “for their love and support of Israel.
“In every US election, every presidential candidate has promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem,” he said. “Finally, we have a leader who promised it and also kept his promise.
And for this, we give thanks that we have arrived at this place at this time.
“The Israeli people thank you for keeping your word, for your courage, for your determination and for your firm, unwavering stance alongside the State of Israel,” he continued. “We hope and expect that other nations will follow your path and your leadership. We will continue to safeguard Jerusalem as a city of peace, as a home to all those of faith, a city of all its residents and citizens, of all religions and communities, who share together one city, which is so greatly loved by everyone.”