US set to break with tradition and open embassy in Jerusalem

CNN/ Newswire | 5/14/2018, 11:04 a.m.
The Trump administration is set to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem Monday, formally breaking from decades of ...
This building tucked into a hill about a mile south of the white limestone of the Old City is the soon-to-be US embassy in Jerusalem.

By Nicole Gaouette and Elise Labott, CNN

(CNN) -- The Trump administration is set to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem Monday, formally breaking from decades of established American policy and international practice in a move that US officials say will create greater regional stability.

Critics say the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital could make a region already struggling with four ongoing conflicts all the more combustible. And they argue it marks the end of the US role as an "honest broker" in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

"In the long run, we're convinced that this decision creates an opportunity and a platform to proceed with a peace process on the basis of realities rather than fantasies," David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, told reporters Friday. "We're fairly optimistic that this decision will ultimately create greater stability rather than less."

The event celebrating the opening of the embassy is expected to begin at 9 a.m ET (4 p.m. local time). A pair of controversial Christian evangelical leaders, Pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, will be on hand.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now directs the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, said that with tensions between Iran and Israel escalating in Syria, President Donald Trump is now "only a few days away from throwing another can of gasoline on the fire by moving the embassy to Jerusalem. It's very dangerous."

A campaign promise

Trump announced the decision to move the embassy in December, when he formally recognized the city as the capital of Israel. It marked the fulfillment of a campaign promise he made to the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"As the President stated on December 6, 2017, the historic opening of our embassy recognizes the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the seat of its government," the State Department said in a statement.

The Embassy move is contentious for Palestinians, who hope to claim part of the city as their future capital, and for many in the Arab world, as it is home to some of the holiest sites in Islam. The city is also home to deeply holy sites for Jews and Christians. The issue has been so thorny that international negotiators had left the question of Jerusalem to the final stages of any peace deal.

In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring America to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but every president since then has declined to make the move, citing national security interests.

The State Department noted that the opening will take place on the 70th anniversary of American recognition of the State of Israel, the day of its founding and a day that Palestinians refer to as "the Catastrophe," as hundreds of thousands fled their homes.

Friedman is set to preside over the dedication ceremony. He'll be backed by a delegation that includes Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, senior adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt.