U.S. Embassy signs erected in Jerusalem
U.S. will use existing consulate site beginning next week while looking for more permanent site
U.S. Embassy road signs went up in Jerusalem on Monday ahead of next week's opening of the mission in accordance with President Donald Trump's recognition of the city as Israel's capital.
Trump says he is making good on U.S. legislation and presidential pledges dating back decades. Other world powers have not done so, sidestepping one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, who want their own state with East Jerusalem as the capital.
A Reuters witness saw workmen installing the signs, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, along roads leading to a U.S. Consulate building in south Jerusalem that will be remodelled as the embassy when it is formally relocated from Tel Aviv on May 14.
"This is not a dream. It is reality. I am proud and moved to have hung this morning the first new signs that were prepared for the U.S. Embassy," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote on Twitter.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The last round of peace talks on a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip collapsed in 2014.
"This [embassy] move is not only illegal but will also thwart the achievement of a just and lasting peace between two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 borders," Israel and Palestinians "living side by side in peace and security," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated Trump's decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a "slap in the face" and said Washington could no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.
In December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained — including Canada — and 21 did not cast a vote.
The latest development comes amid the killing of more than 40 Palestinians by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week border protest due to culminate on May 15, the day after the U.S. Embassy move, and when Palestinians traditionally lament homes and land lost with Israel's creation.
'Recognizing reality,' U.S. says
The Trump administration has left the diplomatic door open for a possible Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
"By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the seat of its government, we're recognizing reality," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Israel last week. "I also stress, as President Trump has said in December, the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiations between the parties, and we remain committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future for both Israel and the Palestinians."
Barkat called the embassy move a "historic event," describing Jerusalem as "the eternal capital of the Jewish people." At the consulate site, mechanical diggers cleared scrubland as workers posted embassy signs along city roads.
Street signs in Israel have sometimes fallen victim to political vandalism, with Jews erasing Arabic or Arabs removing the Hebrew.
An Israeli police spokesperson played down such prospects for the U.S. Embassy signs.
"We're not guarding the embassy signs but of course there is upgraded security around the embassy which is already being implemented," he said. "There are also new CCTV cameras that have been set up in the area. The perimeter and all movement in the area are being closely watched."
Initially, a small interim embassy will operate from the building in southern Jerusalem that now houses U.S. consular operations, while a secure site is found to move the rest of the embassy operations from Tel Aviv.
Hours after the sign went up, it was announced that Paraguay would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
A government spokesperson in Paraquay said President Horacio Cartes was scheduling a trip to Israel to move the embassy on May 21 or May 22.
In March, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.
Netanyahu said in April that "at least half a dozen" countries were now "seriously discussing" following the U.S. lead, but he did not identify them. It was learned last week that the Romania government has considered the move, which would make it the first European Union country to house its embassy if it follows through.