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U.S. delegation arrives in Jerusalem ahead of embassy move

The decision to move the embassy upended decades of Washington policy and sparked heavy criticism in the Palestinian territories and beyond.
Image: Demonstrators wave U.S. and Israeli national flags in Jerusalem's Old City
Demonstrators wave U.S. and Israeli national flags in Jerusalem's Old City on May 13, 2018, as they celebrate the Jerusalem Day.Thomas Coex / AFP - Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other members of the U.S. delegation arrived in a tense Jerusalem on Sunday to celebrate the relocation of the United States embassy.

President Donald Trump recognized the city as Israel's capital last year and pledged to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

That will officially happen Monday at a ceremony attended by Ivanka, Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The president will address the event via video message.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile said Israel would be celebrating Trump's decision.

"President Trump promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and he did so. He promised to move the American Embassy to Israel and he is doing so. Of course we will all celebrate this day, a real celebration, tomorrow," he said at a weekly Cabinet meeting.

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump greets U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel on Sunday.Courtesy David Azagury / Reuters

The new embassy is opening in part of a pre-existing American visa-and-passport facility and will have an initial staff of at least 50, according to senior Trump administration officials previewing the highly anticipated opening. That includes Ambassador David Friedman's aides and U.S. consular officers already working at the site.

Around 800 guests are expected to attend Monday's event. There will also be events on Sunday to celebrate the move, though many European nations who oppose the decision are expected to skip them.

The decision to move the embassy breaks with decades of Washington policy and distances the U.S. from its allies, who have kept their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and view the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city as a one-sided move that invalidates the U.S. as a Mideast peace broker.

The decision has sparked heavy criticism in the Palestinian territories and beyond.

“This move marks the end of an era when the United States led international efforts to supposedly achieve the two-state solution,” said Husam Zomlot, leader of the Palestinian delegation to the United States.

The Trump administration, Zumlot added in a statement, had acted in a “divisive manner” that would help the “minority anti-peace forces” and further erode the rights of Palestinians.

Women protesters in Istanbul on Friday, during a demonstration against the embassy move.Ozan Kose / AFP - Getty Images

Gabriel Meital, who lives in a kibbutz near Tel Aviv and like many Israelis welcomed the move, said he was a little worried but believed the move was "the right thing that has to happen."

Meital said he was "sure" there would be civil unrest in response, but felt it was a price worth paying. "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and I think all the embassies must be here, in the capital of Israel," he added.

Not only is the embassy ceremony expected to be met with public unrest, the next day is the 70th anniversary of what the Palestinians call the "nakba," or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted during Israel's creation in 1948.

Furthermore, on Sunday Israel marks Jerusalem Day, the 51st anniversary of what it refers to as the city's "unification" following the 1967 Mideast war. It will also be hosting a gala reception for the U.S. delegation.

On Saturday night, a rally of around 200 protesters in Jerusalem spoke out against the embassy move and other issues.

"This embassy coming here will make our life harder, it will bring violence to the streets," said Suf Patishi, an activist with the campaign group Standing Together. "Today we march together, the Jews and Arabs, to say one thing: Jerusalem is a city of all of us, Jews and Arabs, Israeli and Palestinian."

Two demonstrations are planned outside the ceremony, according to local police who have approved the protests, and Micky Rosenfeld, foreign spokesman of the Israeli police, told reporters it would be their most intensive week of the year.

"We want to make sure that one event doesn't lead to another, meaning that if today things will be quiet in Jerusalem then of course hopefully tomorrow things will be quiet as well," he said.

Ziad Jaber, Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem, and Alexander Smith from London.

Associated Press contributed.