Israel launched celebrations on Sunday for the U.S. Embassyâ€™s relocation to Jerusalem, a move whose break with world consensus was underscored by the absence of most envoys to the country from a reception hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mondayâ€™sÂ slated opening of the new embassy follows U.S. President Donald Trumpâ€™s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israelâ€™s capital, a decision he said fulfilled decades of policy pledges in Washington and formalised realities on the ground.
The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in east Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trumpâ€™s shift from previous administrationsâ€™ preference for keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.
Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the U.S. move could inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border, where Israel reinforced troops in anticipation of the embassy opening.
Most countries say Jerusalemâ€™s status should be determined in a final peace settlement, and say moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.
Addressing dignitaries at the Foreign Ministry, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the presidentâ€™s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the Israeli prime minister urged others to follow Washingtonâ€™s lead.
â€œMove your embassies to Jerusalem because itâ€™s the right thing to do,â€ Netanyahu said. â€œMove your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and thatâ€™s because you canâ€™t base peace on a foundation of lies.â€
Netanyahu said that â€œunder any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israelâ€™s capitalâ€.
Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was decorated with roadside flowerbeds in the design of the U.S. flag and posters reading â€œTrump make Israel great againâ€.
â€œTragically, the U.S. administration has chosen to side with Israelâ€™s exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths,â€ the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the United States said.
The U.S. Embassy move â€œgives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace,â€ it said in a statement.
Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance. Among those present were delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will open their own Jerusalem embassies later this month.
Attending the Foreign Ministry gathering were representatives from Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, but none from western European Union states – suggesting a rift within the bloc over Trumpâ€™s Jerusalem move.
No-show nations withheld commentÂ on Sunday.
The EU mission in Israel tweetedÂ on FridayÂ that the bloc would â€œrespect the international consensus on Jerusalem … including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolvedâ€.
Outside Jerusalemâ€™s ancient Damascus Gate, Israelis danced in another celebrationÂ on Sunday, marking the capture of the Old City from Arab forces in the 1967 Middle East War.
Hundreds of Israeli rightists entered Al Aqsa mosque compound, an icon of Palestinian nationalism and a vestige of ancient Jewish temples. Witnesses said some prostrated themselves in Jewish prayer, violating religious restrictions at the site and sparking scuffles with Muslim worshippers.
Israeli police said several people were forcibly removed and questioned.
The U.S. Treasury secretary called the embassy relocation â€œa sign of the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countriesâ€ and also referred to the U.S. withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal, a move welcomed by Israel and some U.S. Arab allies in the Gulf but lamented by other world powers.
The Palestinians plan to demonstrate againstÂ Mondayâ€™sÂ inauguration from Arab districts abutting the Jerusalem site.
On the border with Gaza, Palestinians have also held protests as Israel prepares to mark 70 years since its creation, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of them were displaced from their homes.
More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the latest violence.
In a recorded speech released on Sunday, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri criticized Trumpâ€™s decision on the embassy, as well as the leaders of Muslim countries he said had sold out the Palestinians. He also said Israelâ€™s Tel Aviv was Muslim land.
The Trump administration has sought to keep the door open to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy by saying the embassy move did not aim to prejudge Jerusalemâ€™s final borders. The U.S. consulate in the city, tasked with handling Palestinian ties, will remain.
Washington has not asked Israel to initiate peace moves in exchange for the embassy relocation, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told reportersÂ on Friday: â€œThere was no give and take with Israel with regard to this decision.â€ (Reuters)