U.S. to Palestinians: 'Get on board before events overtake you'

"Circumstances are changing," one official said, and they should "get on board before events overtake them."

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May 11, 2018 17:13
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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WASHINGTON – Palestinians’ resistance to America’s opening of an embassy in Jerusalem on Monday is based on a “fantasy” unhelpful to their cause – that they retain veto power over the fate of the storied capital, senior Trump administration officials said on Friday.

The comments come amid State Department assurances to the Arab world that the embassy move does not amount to a judgment on the final status of the ancient city and its “contested borders.”

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“Moving our embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal,” a State Department note said. “Rather, it is a necessary condition for it. We are not taking a position on final-status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, nor on the resolution of contested borders.”

US Ambassador David Friedman, previewing the embassy opening, called on Palestinian Authority leaders to “get on board” with the “reality” of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, and on the presence of the US Embassy there. The PA has effectively cut off contact with the US administration since December, when President Donald Trump chose to recognize that status.

“People can get unhappy about losing that leverage point in the short run,” said Friedman, “but in the longer run, there’s also a recognition that circumstances are changing, that the world is moving ahead, and people have to kind of get on board before events overtake them.”

The embassy opening, which will be attended by hundreds of guests, will be followed one day later by Nakba Day, on which the Palestinians mark the “catastrophe” of Israel’s rebirth.

The State Department note also says that Trump continues to support the status quo arrangement on the Temple Mount.

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“Consulate-General Jerusalem will continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate responsible for US relations with the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority,” it reads. “The administration is firmly committed to pursuing a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians that promises a brighter future for both.”

US DIPLOMATS raised a toast to their last day in the old US Embassy in Israel, long based in Tel Aviv. The opening event on Monday will be attended by hundreds of guests, including Friedman; the daughter and son-in-law of the president, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Jason Greenblatt, the US special representative for international negotiations; and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada and Mike Lee of Utah.

Ivanka Trump posted a photo on social media of herself praying at the Western Wall during her last visit to the capital.

“With great joy, I am returning to Jerusalem,” she wrote as a caption. “I am honored to join the distinguished delegation representing President Trump, his administration, and the American people at this momentous ceremony commemorating the opening of our new US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel. We look forward to celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary and the bright future ahead. We will pray for the boundless potential of the future of the US-Israel alliance, and we will pray for peace.”

In a video released by the US Embassy in Jerusalem Facebook page, Friedman shared with viewers that the embassy seal had just been placed on the facade of the building in the capital’s Arnona neighborhood, and that preparations are underway before the opening of the embassy.

Trump will not attend the opening but will instead offer remarks by video. He tweeted on Sunday that the event marked a “big day” for his administration and for the Jewish state.

Vice President Mike Pence will address a gathering in Washington that evening marking the anniversary of Israel’s independence.

Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether security factored into the decision by Trump and Pence not to attend, Friedman said: “I believe it all has to do with scheduling.”

THE PENTAGON, according to a CNN report, has sent Marines to US embassies across the region as a security precaution ahead of expected protests.

Victoria Coates, a senior national security adviser to Trump, noted that the president’s decision to open the embassy has had no tangible effect on US relations with other countries – nor has it changed the course of a historic alignment between Israel and the Arab world.

In particular, she lauded a message from a Bahraini official on Thursday that defended Israel’s response to an Iranian rocket barrage into the Golan Heights last week.

“It’s a sea change we’ve been waiting for,” Coates said. “It’s so important to see an Arab nation recognize Israel as a country, and a country that has a right to defend itself.”

The festivities surrounding the US Embassy transfer will begin on Sunday afternoon, at a reception at the Foreign Ministry to be attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US delegation that has arrived for the move.

According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, representatives of 86 embassies in the country were invited to attend, and some 40 are expected to take part.

Among the 28 European Union countries, three are expected to send representatives: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania.

Those three countries blocked an attempt by the EU – which fervently opposes the US initiative – to issue a statement criticizing it, Channel 10 reported on Friday.

According to the report, the quashed statement, which was pushed by France and a number of other EU states, had three central points: that Jerusalem should be the capital of two states – Israel and a future Palestinian state; that the city’s final status would only be determined through negotiations; and that EU states would not follow the US and move their embassies to Jerusalem.

Statements of this sort require a consensus of all 28 EU countries, and when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania balked, it was impossible to issue the statement.

Ever since the US announced its move in December, the Czech Republic and Romania have themselves flirted with the idea of moving their embassies.

The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has opened up Sunday afternoon’s reception to all the MKs, following complaints from opposition legislators that they were not invited to the main event on Monday.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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