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Washington (AFP) – The United States will relocate its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May, coinciding with Israel’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of its independence, US officials said Friday.

The decision sparked a furious reaction from Palestinians, who object to the US recognition of the disputed city as Israel’s capital and call May 14 — which in 2018 marks 70 years since Israel’s declaration of independence — Naqba, their “day of catastrophe.”

The choice of the date, a year earlier than originally forecast, is likely to further cloud efforts to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, putting in greater doubt the traditional US role as an “honest broker.”

“We are planning to open the new US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May.  The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary,” a State Department spokesperson said.

In December, President Donald Trump broke with decades of policy to announce US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, drawing near global condemnation, deeply angering the Palestinians and sparking days of unrest in the Palestinian territories.

Until now, the US embassy has been located in Tel Aviv. 

The new embassy will be located temporarily in a US consular building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, the US official said, while Washington seeks a permanent location.

It will initially consist of the ambassador and a “small team,” the official added.

– ‘Blatant violation of international law’ –

The Palestine Liberation Organization decried Washington’s decision as a “provocation to all Arabs.” 

“The American administration’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and choose the Palestinian people’s Naqba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law,” PLO number two Saeb Erekat told AFP.

He said the result would be “the destruction of the two-state option, as well as a blatant provocation to all Arabs and Muslims.”

The US move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital broke with generations of international consensus that the city’s status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Trump said his defiant move — making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge — marked the start of a “new approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israelis and Palestinians alike interpreted Trump’s move as Washington taking Israel’s side in the conflict — a view reinforced by the White House’s recent decision to withhold financing for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas delivered a rare address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, calling for an international conference to be held later this year to launch a new, wider Middle East peace process and pave the way to Palestinian statehood.

The revised schedule on the embassy move comes after US Vice President Mike Pence pledged only last month to move the embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019 in a speech to Israel’s parliament that saw Arab lawmakers expelled after they shouted in protest.

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