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On the eve of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel celebrates

On the eve of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel celebrates
A man wearing a U.S. flag joins a march outside Damascus Gate on May 13, 2018, in Jerusalem to mark Israel's capture of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)

On the eve of the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the Holy City partied.

"The truth is that not only has Jerusalem been the capital of the Jewish people for millennia and of our state for decades, but the truth is that under any peace deal Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced from a stage bedecked with American and Israeli flags at a gala held in the courtyard of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

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He expressed gratitude to President Trump for the decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. For decades, Netanyahu has exhorted the world to recognize and accept Israel as it is — with its capital, its parliament, its Supreme Court and its ministries in Jerusalem.

Guatemala, Paraguay and the Czech Republic have also announced intentions to move their embassies to Jerusalem.

The European Union, however, has criticized the new American position as an impediment to peace, and four European ambassadors attended the festivities.

"It is true we have not made the same decision as the Americans," said Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss. "But I recognize the importance of this day for Israelis across the board, and I am the ambassador to Israel, so I am happy to be part of their celebration. It is OK."

The Palestinian Authority government, which has boycotted all contact with American officials since Trump announced the embassy move in December, issued a a statement saying the relocation signified a U.S. endorsement of "Israel's policies and measures that undermine Palestinians' fundamental rights."

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

The Israeli celebrations coincided with Jerusalem Day, in which residents enjoyed a day off to honor the anniversary of the 1967 reunification of the city by Israeli forces that captured East Jerusalem from the Jordanian army.

Roughly 40,000 Israelis people paraded through the Old City.

Earlier in the day, several hundred members of the Tag Meir civic forum marched along the same route handing out flowers to Arab shop owners, along with fliers with a message of understanding : "We have come here to reach out to you on this complicated day."

The ceremony Monday officially opening the embassy is expected to draw about 800 dignitaries, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the president's daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

"It is very strange that for all these years Israel has been the only country in the world where America doesn't have its embassy in the capital city," said former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He said he wasn't sure he'd live to see the day the Jerusalem Embassy Act he coauthored in 1995 would finally take effect. The law allows presidents to waive it on national security grounds — and Trump is the first to not do so.

Dan Shapiro, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama, said the relocation should be viewed as "a first step that can contribute to the ultimate American strategic objective … of two states with two capitals in a shared Jerusalem, with a U.S. Embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem."

"Our embassy belongs in Jerusalem," he said.

Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, is leading a congressional delegation to the embassy dedication.

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"Everybody has a claim to Jerusalem, from a religious point of view," he said. "But I think the premier claim comes from the Jewish people, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and it could one day be the capital of the independent Palestinian state."

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent.

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