Senior administration officials on Friday dismissed the notion that President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has isolated the United States in the region.
The officials also told reporters on a morning conference call that an ample number of U.S. lawmakers are expected to attend a Monday afternoon event at the Jerusalem facility to mark its official opening. They did not, however, name names.
“We’re not isolated from our allies. It’s just not the case,” the senior administration official said. “This decision hasn’t created any isolation of any kind.”
Another senior official on the call pointed to recent tweets and comments by leaders of Bahrain expressing support for Israeli military strikes against Iranian targets in Syria as an example of how Arab countries are not upset by the embassy move.
The first senior official predicted — rather boldly, given Palestinian opposition to the embassy move — that Trump’s December decision will help rather than hinder work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact. That official described the embassy move as creating an “opportunity and a platform” to pursue a peace deal based on “realities rather than fantasies,” predicting the American embassy in the holy city will “create more stability rather than less.”
As members head to the Middle East, the first senior confirmed that Trump is not expected to attend the Monday opening. Instead, the president plans to address the event via video, he said.
Like Trump, previous presidents promised to make the same decision prior to being elected. But unlike him, once in office and confronted with responsibility for the inevitable fallout in the long-volatile Middle East, each opted to instead exercise a waiver built into a 1995 law to delay the embassy’s relocation to the city, which is important to the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths.
A senior White House official in December told reporters “10 successive Congresses” had reaffirmed the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act in various ways prior to Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. The official added at that time the Senate last June unanimously passed a resolution (90-0) that is reflected in Trump’s decision.
That bipartisan resolution had 17 co-sponsors, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected,” it states. “There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for [three] millennia.”
The diplomatic facility’s opening — which the first official said was conducted “on time and under budget” — only adds to recent heightened tensions in the region. Israeli forces in recent days have clashed with Palestinian protesters and hit Iranian targets inside Syria. Iran has conducted its own strikes on Israeli territories. And Trump earlier this week withdrew the U.S. from an Obama-era agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear arms program.
U.S. officials say they are closely monitoring protests and celebrations of the embassy move in and around Israel and the region.
The Trump government supports the right of Palestinians and others in the region to “peacefully” protest the Jerusalem embassy opening, the second administration official said Friday. But she condemned some protesters in the Gaza region who she says have allegedly placed images of swastikas and gas bombs on kites they are flying there.
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