By ANNE FLAHERTY and CATHERINE LUCEY
WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid deadly clashes along the Israeli-Palestinian border, President Donald Trump declared Monday a “great day” for Israel as his top aides celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a campaign promised fulfilled.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, along with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, led the U.S. delegation with a single message: Only Trump had the courage to act on what America has wanted for a long time.
“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it,” Kushner said.
The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital. Protests roiled the Gaza border, resulting in at least 37 Palestinians killed, officials said.
In a video address that aided at the ceremony’s opening, Trump said the U.S. still remains “fully committed” to pursing a Mideast peace deal. Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reiterated that goal in a statement calling for “lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
But critics of the move, including some European officials, say the U.S. decision will only serve to exacerbate tensions and make it more difficult for the U.S. to offer itself as a fair broker of peace.
White House officials have rejected this complaint.
“As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” said Kushner, who is Trump’s chief Mideast adviser.
Earlier that morning on Twitter, Trump urged people to watch the ceremony on television and declaring the day “A great day for Israel!” As the ceremony began, he wrote: “Big day for Israel. Congratulations!”
Likewise, Trump’s aides also made no direct reference to the climbing death toll. In a Fox News interview, Mnuchin repeatedly referenced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said Trump should be praised for “taking action” to keep Americans and people in the Middle East safe.
“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,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin also said “it’s not coincidental” that the embassy move coincided with Trump’s announcement that he planned to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.
Also on hand were Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The embassy celebration was widely considered a snub by the Palestinians. Roughly 800 guests were expected to attend. U.S. officials said last week that Trump’s delegation was not planning on meeting Palestinian officials during their visit. The Trump administration in recent months also has slashed U.S. aid to the Palestinians and programs that support them.
Trump’s policy is a sharp departure from past U.S. administrations, which have tried to position America as a neutral party ready to broker a peace deal.
“Of all the things President Trump could have done, doing this (embassy move) is the strongest signal he could send to the Israeli people,” South Carolina’s Graham said.