The “City on a Hill” now has a new hilltop landmark, with the opening of the United States Embassy in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem. The much-anticipated ceremony was attended by top White House officials on Monday, along with dozens of Republican lawmakers and their Israeli counterparts. “For me this spot brings back personal memories. It evokes profound collective memories of the greatest moments we have known on this City on a Hill,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu.
This phrase is known to most Americans from a parable in their holy books, also used by Puritan leader John Winthrop to describe the newly-formed colonies in America. It was a fitting choice of words, considering the crucial support provided by evangelical voters in shepherding the long-stalled project to completion. Netanyahu then cited the call from Jerusalem Day of 51 years ago, “The Temple Mount is in our hands” as “words that lifted the spirit of the entire nation.”
The ceremony was officiated by Ambassador David Friedman, who welcomed Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, senior advisor Jared Kushner, and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump. Their message centered on President Donald Trump. “While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered,” said Kushner. “Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.”
Although President Trump did not attend the ceremony, he sent a video message, arguing that it is every nation’s right to determine its capital city. “The plain reality is that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem,” said Trump. Netanyahu and Kushner recognized that within 40 miles of the ceremony, violent protests were taking place on the Gaza border. “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not of the solution.”
As they had been doing for the past seven weeks, crowds of demonstrators attempted to break through the Israeli border fence as Israeli soldiers cautiously observed and returned fire. Billed as a nonviolent event, its participants burned tires, flew kites laden with explosives, and dug tunnels to undermine the security of Israel’s southern border communities. To date, hundreds have been injured and dozens killed after failing to heed warnings by Israel not to engage with the border and its guards.
Despite worldwide condemnation, Trump kept his promise while maintaining the long-term vision of a peaceful solution. “The president is making difficult decisions because they are what he believes are the right long-term decisions and not just kicking the can down the road,” said Mnuchin. He added that there is a connection between his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the embassy relocation.
Along with Ambassador Friedman, a native of North Woodmere, another local voice at the ceremony was Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, director of Chabad of the Five Towns. The longtime learning partner of Friedman spoke of truth as the prerequisite to peace. “Truth is not determined by popular opinion – it is eternal not ephemeral, unchanging not relative. Truth stands the test of time. While empires, ideologies and philosophies rise and fall, the Jewish people’s attachment to this holy city has never waned or faltered. It is truth.”
Other spiritual leaders who spoke included evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel. “We come before you, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thanking you for bringing us to this momentous occasion in the life of your people and in the history of our world,” Jeffress said. “I believe I speak for every one of us when I say I thank You every day that You have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, but more importantly stands on the right side of You, O G-d, when it comes to Israel.”
Among the 800 delegates celebrating the opening, not a single Democratic lawmaker was present, although New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer voiced support for the relocation in a statement. “This is a sad, sad manifestation. I wish he’d have every member of Congress here,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “Every member of Congress had the option to come and be here.”
Sensing an erosion of historically bipartisan consensus on Jerusalem, columnist Yair Rosenberg of Tablet Magazine sounded a note of caution, predicting that a future Democratic president could also act unilaterally by opening a Palestine Embassy in East Jerusalem. “The very arguments made to advance the embassy move today can easily be re-purposed to justify one for Palestine tomorrow,” he tweeted. Such is the foreign policy power given to an American president. After delaying legislation authorizing the Israel embassy move, a president can make it a reality.
From his desk in Ramallah, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas expressed defiance and refusal to participate in American-led peace negotiations. “Palestine is for the Palestinians and is not, as the Jews claim, the land of their ancestors,” as translated by Al Jazeera.
Abbas’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the ceremony signaled another example of the United States isolating itself from international consensus. “Just as it previously did with UNESCO and by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Trump administration is promoting international anarchy by supporting Israel and its blatant and systematic violations of international legitimacy resolutions.”
On the Gaza border, violent protests continued through the day, marked by Palestinians as the 70th anniversary of their Nakba, or catastrophe. Israel warned Gazans to stay away from the border by dropping leaflets. “Don’t get near the fence and don’t take part in Hamas’ show, which endangers you,” the leaflets read in Arabic.
In theory, an embassy standing atop the pre-1967 seam line could serve Israelis and Palestinians, and while the State Department recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it does not have a position on the borders of
the city, leaving open the possibility of future negotiations on its status, as Rosenberg wrote. But with Abbas pulling away from engagement with the United States, the new embassy will stand on the hill overlooking an entirely Israeli city. The spiritual tone of the ceremony gave recognition to the one authority higher than Trump, as both Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin invoked the She’hecheyanu prayer.
By Sergey Kadinsky