Israel on Sunday kicked-off festivities to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, even as it bolstered its forces along the Gaza border and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests of the move.
A day before the embassy’s formal opening; Israel hosted a gala party at its Foreign Ministry with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and other American VIPs in attendance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “bold decision” in upending decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It’s the right thing to do,” a smiling Netanyahu told the jubilant crowd.
Trump announced his decision on Jerusalem in December, triggering a joyous reaction from Netanyahu’s nationalist government. The move infuriated the Palestinians, who claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital.
The Israel Police has also announced the deployment thousands of officers in the city, preparing for the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem schedule to take place at the U.S. Consulate in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, which will officially become the U.S. embassy this week.
The U.S. embassy relocation festivities got off to an early start Monday, with an 8:30 A.M. bagel breakfast celebration by the Israeli office of the Orthodox Union and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas halted ties with the Trump administration and declared it unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.
The rival Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been staging a series of weekly demonstrations against a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.
Despite mounting criticisms, Dallas mega church pastor Robert James Jeffress Jnr. will give the opening prayer at the controversial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
The American Southern pastor of First Baptist Dallas as well as best-selling author and radio and television host has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, remarking that he had “courage that no other U.S. president has” had to move the embassy from Tel Aviv.
Jeffress leads a congregation of about 12,000, and he has drawn criticism for a number of his remarks, including calling Islam a “false religion” that is “inspired by Satan” and gave a speech titled “Why Gay is not ok” that sparked a protest at the downtown Dallas church.
Pastor Jeffress once also said that “the dark dirty secret of Islam” is that “it is a religion that promotes pedophilia,” and that Islam is “a heresy from the pit of hell.”
Jeffress recently tweeted: “Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.”
The role of Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Southern Baptist mega church, underlines the significance of the Jerusalem event as an appeal to Christian conservatives, part of President Donald Trump’s base of supporters.