- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2018

A delegation of U.S. lawmakers celebrating the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday praised President Trump’s “courageous decision” to recognize the city as Israel’s capital, saying it will promote stability even if many in the Mideast are angered by the development.

“This is providing the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” Rep. Joe Wilson, who’s heading a group of 12 Republican members of the House that will attend the embassy’s official dedication Monday, told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

“It’s so important that any country be able to determine its capital,” the South Carolina Republican said. “There’s no question there are people around the world who question Israel’s legitimacy, but that’s now been resolved due to the courage I believe of President Donald Trump.”

“To me, this actually reduces the level of chaos, which sadly exists today in the Middle East,” he added. “With the absolute integrity of the State of Israel being resolved now, other issues, whether in Syria, Iraq or Iran, can be addressed independently.”

Mr. Trump announced the decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. The development triggered a joyous reaction from the nationalist government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But it also sparked widespread protests around the Middle East and infuriated some of the region’s most prominent Muslim leaders. It particularly outraged Palestinians, who claim Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem as their own capital. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by halting ties with the Trump administration and declaring the United States unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.

Previous U.S. presidents — both Democrat and Republican — as well as nearly every other nation in the world, have refrained from opening embassies in Jerusalem since Israel’s establishment in 1948, arguing the city’s status should first be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Mr. Wilson told The Times on Monday morning that controversy surrounding the embassy move is contrasted by a swell of pride and support for America and Mr. Trump among Israelis, particularly in Jerusalem, which is home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.

“There are posters everywhere around the city recognizing President Trump as ‘making Israel great again,’ ” the congressman said. “It’s exhilarating to be here and so uplifting to be in a nation that so appreciates America and President Trump.”

The House delegation had a roughly hourlong meeting with Mr. Netanyahu and has been hosted by other Israeli officials ahead of the embassy dedication. A separate group of four U.S. Senators, headed by Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican, is also in Jerusalem for the festivities.

Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s part of the Senate delegation, told The Associated Press that Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem will go down in history as a moment akin to President Harry Truman recognizing Israel when it was established 70 years ago.

Calling it “the right decision,” Mr. Cruz also praised a small number of other nations, including Guatemala and Paraguay, who’ve followed suit with plans to move their own embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, where most of the international embassies in Israel are located.

But acrimony over the development hangs heavy in the backdrop. The Associated Press reported that dozens of countries — including Britain, France and Germany — skipped an opening party for the U.S. Embassy dedication held by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday night.

The party, along with Monday’s dedication come even as Israel has bolstered its forces along the border with Palestinian-controlled Gaza and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests.

Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom are Jewish, attended the foreign ministry party Sunday night along with other American VIPs. A smiling Mr. Netanyahu praised Trump’s “bold decision,” telling the jubilant crowd, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Mr. Wilson echoed the message in his interview with The Times.

“So Israel, a nation with a 3,300-year history now has the recognition of its capital officially,” the congressman said. “The key thing is that the U.S., with the leadership of President Trump, has truly made permanent the State of Israel.”

“This is good for America because it will enhance the security of Israel, which enhances the security of the American people,” Mr. Wilson said.

“I’m just so proud of the president’s courage to act,” he added. “It’s certainly been appreciated here.”

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