As the U.S. Embassy in Israel is set to be moved to Jerusalem in a Monday ceremony, President Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, called the controversial decision a "recognition of reality."
Bolton said Sunday that relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv will "make it easier" to eventually reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, even though the region is bracing for large protests.
“If you’re not prepared to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that’s where the American Embassy should be, then you’re operating on a completely different wavelength,” Bolton told ABC’s This Week. “Recognizing reality always enhances the chances for peace.”
Trump announced in December his decision to keep a campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and began the process to move the U.S. Embassy there. West Jerusalem is where Israel's government is based. Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
For that reason, every U.S. president since Israel's founding in 1948 has located the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The decision to move the embassy has been greeted with anger from Palestinians. Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement urged tens of thousands of people to join Monday’s protest to coincide with the embassy opening. The Israeli military said it beefed up forces along the Gaza border and dropped leaflets into the Gaza Strip urging residents to keep their distance from the border fence, the Associated Press reported.
Gaza health facilities said they were preparing for possible mass injuries. Shifa hospital spokesman Ayman Sahbani said Sunday that tents with medical equipment were being set up outside the facility to ease pressure on its 20-bed emergency ward, the AP said. Since late March, 42 Palestinians have been killed in weekly clashes with Israel along the Gaza border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the U.S. delegation after it arrived Sunday, including the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Netanyahu praised President Trump’s “bold decision” to move the embassy to contested Jerusalem.
The U.S. delegation also includes Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, plus Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada.
“We will pray for the boundless potential of the U.S.-Israel alliance & we will pray for peace,” Ivanka Trump wrote on Twitter ahead of the visit.
Monday's ceremony — which takes place on the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring its independence — for now means moving the ambassador and a small staff to the U.S. consular compound in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona and rededicating the building as the American Embassy.
Most of the 850 embassy workers in Tel Aviv won’t move to Jerusalem until a new embassy building is constructed, which could take up to nine years. U.S. consular services, such as issuing visas, will also continue at the Arnona site.
The State Department said in a statement that the administration remains committed to brokering a lasting peace deal.
“We are not taking a position on final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, nor on the resolution of contested borders,” the statement said.