By Stephen Farrell
The United States opens its embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians
The opening ceremony is at a U.S. consular building in the Arnona neighbourhood. It will house an interim embassy for the ambassador and a small staff until a larger site is found.
The compound cuts across the 1949 Armistice Line that separated West Jerusalem from No Man’s Land, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War and has held under occupation ever since.
The embassy move follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last December to break with decades of U.S. policy and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision, saying it reflected that “the Jewish people have had a capital for 3,000 years, and that it is called Jerusalem.”
But the move upset the Arab world and Western allies. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “slap in the face” and said the United States can no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.
Trump said his administration has a peace proposal in the works and that by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of America’s closest ally he had “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”
WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNISE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?
There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a promise of his 2016 election campaign.
Vice-President Mike Pence and David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel appointed by Trump, are thought to have pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation.
The decision was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Pence.
Trump acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem. But Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama consistently signed waivers.
Announcing his decision on Dec. 6, Trump cited the Jerusalem Embassy Act and suggested his predecessors had “lacked courage.” He said: “They failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?
Religion, politics and history.
Jerusalem is a city sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there. Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, early Muslim rulers, Crusaders, Ottomans, the British Empire and by the modern states of Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognised internationally. Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Jews call the city Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds (“The Holy”).
At the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is the hill known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.
It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.
Within yards of the wall are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The city is also a pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.
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