Jerusalem embassy opening: Why the controversy?

The United States will hold an opening ceremony for the American embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, the 70th anniversary of the recognition of the state of Israel.

The move comes after President Donald Trump announced in December his plans to move the embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, declaring the ancient city the capital of Israel.

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“President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem affirms a great and simple truth: Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years. It’s been the capital of our state for the past 70 years. It will remain our capital for all time,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Here is a look at the move and what it means.

Who is moving?

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, will move to the existing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, along with a small core staff.

The building he will be moving to was opened in 2010.

A new embassy will be built in Jerusalem over the next seven to 10 years. When that is completed, most of the 850 or so staff in the Tel Aviv embassy now will be moved to Jerusalem


Why is the U.S. moving the embassy?

One of Trump’s campaign promises was to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6.

When Trump announced the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and move the U.S. embassy there, he cited the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem if Israel claims the city as its capital.

The three presidents who came before Trump, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, sidestepped the issue by signing waivers citing security concerns if the embassy is moved.

Trump said in December of his predecessors, “They failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

Why hasn’t the embassy moved before?

The United States has not moved the embassy to Jerusalem before now because for 70 years countries around the world have mostly stayed out of the conflict over who owns the city.

In 1989, however, the U.S. began leasing a plot of land in Jerusalem that was to be the spot where a new embassy was to be built. The 99-year lease costs the United States $1 a year. The land remains undeveloped.

Why is that causing so much commotion?

Jerusalem is the center of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Israel has called Jerusalem its undivided capital, while Palestine claims the eastern half of the city as its capital.

In 1947, the United Nations worked to create a homeland for Jews in the Middle East with the idea that Jerusalem would be a separate “international city.” However, the war to establish an Israeli state led to the city being divided.

In 1949, the “Green Line” (a border created through negotiations at the end of the war) was established, giving Israel the western half of Jerusalem and Jordan the eastern half.

That arrangement lasted for nearly 20 years until the Six-Day War in 1967, at which time Israel occupied East Jerusalem and has kept it since then.

In 1980, Israel passed a law stating Jerusalem was the united capital of Israel.
While Israel claims Jerusalem, the rest of the world has refrained from assigning capital status to either side until and unless Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement on who owns what. Resolving that issue is perhaps the most difficult part of finding a peaceful end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The United States is the first country since Israel's inception in 1948 to officially declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

Does any other country have an embassy in Jerusalem?

Guatemala will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this week. Paraguay will do the same later this month.

Who would be against it?

Palestine and other Arab countries.

In May 2017, the Palestinian group Hamas proposed the formation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Saudi Arabia has called the idea a “flagrant provocation to Muslims.” The majority of European Union members have refused to support the move.

On Tuesday, Palestinians also mark the "Nakba," or the day of “catastrophe.” On the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were evicted from their homes.

What time is the ceremony Monday?

The event recognizing the opening of the embassy is scheduled to start at 9 a.m, ET (4 p.m., local time).


Who will be at the ceremony?

Trump will not be attending the ceremony in person. He will offer comments in a video message that is to be played at the opening. (See above)

The president's daughter, Ivanka, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, will be representing Trump at the ceremony. In addition, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will be at the ceremony, as will Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt.
David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, will preside over the ceremony. Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Baptist preacher from Dallas, will offer a prayer at the ceremony. Jeffress has been called out by some for disparaging other religions, in particular, Islam. 


Dozens of foreign diplomats have said they will attend the ceremony. Here’s a list of the countries with representatives at the ceremony:

Albania, Angola, Austria, Cameroon, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Kenya, Macedonia, Burma, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Serbia, South Sudan, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam, Paraguay, Tanzania and Zambia.

Who won’t be there?

Leaders and diplomats from the European Union will not attend. And, obviously, no one representing the Palestinians – who called Trump’s decision “the slap of the century” – will be there.

On Monday prior to the ceremony, Israeli forces killed 37 Palestinians and wounded at least 500 in Gaza, according to The Associated Press.

Why does Jerusalem draw so much contention?

Jerusalem is a sacred city to three of the world's religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The hill in the center of the city is the Temple Mount or Har ha-Bayit to the Jews. It was the site of many Jewish temples. It is now the site of the Western Wall, a place of sacred prayer.

To Muslims, the hill is The Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are nearby.

For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected.
Sources: The Associated Press; The BBC; Reuters;

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