Official US presence upsets Palestinians, signals expansion of new American policy path toward Israel
US Ambassador David Friedman and US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt attended a ceremony late on the afternoon of June 30 marking the dedication of an approximately 2,000-year-old subterranean “pilgrimage road” at the ancient City of David.
According to the Ir David Foundation, a controversial right-wing organization working to strengthen the Jewish presence in Jerusalem, the road served as the main thoroughfare for pilgrims walking from the Pool of Siloam, where they would ritually purify themselves before ascending to the Second Temple.
The dedication ceremony followed six years of archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Friedman’s and Greenblatt’s attendance signifies the first time the US has physically acknowledged its formal recognition of Israeli control in an area past the 1967 borders.
“[Friedman] is attending to make a statement,” Professor Shmuel Sandler, a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line. “The United States is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and they are not recognizing the green line [pre-1967] borders.”
None of this sits well with the Palestinians. In addition, there is the matter of a tunnel that was dug under homes in Wadi Hilweh, part of the Arab area of the general neighborhood known as Silwan, in order to excavate the road.
“There is a new image of American hostility, which emerges through the decision of David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, and Jason Greenblatt, the American envoy to the Middle East, to participate in a ceremony organized by the settlement group Elad [the Hebrew name by which the Ir David Foundation is more popularly known], to open the homes of Palestinian citizens in the town of Silwan, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The tunnel began to be dug six years ago, and excavation work has displaced a number of Palestinian families, whose homes have collapsed [or] are in danger of collapsing, to promote [the Jews’] Talmudic stories,” the statement continued.
Ahmad Ghnaim, a member of the Palestinian National Council, condemned the excavation.
“All actions and all future actions taken by Israel are rejected and refused because Jerusalem is an occupied city. Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state, which has been recognized by the United Nations,” Ghnaim said.
“We are calling on all the ambassadors of the EU,” Ghnaim continued, “that live in east Jerusalem… to refuse any actions that go against international law and the UN resolution.”
The presence of the US envoys at the event might serve as further fuel for the Palestinians to reject Washington as a mediator in the conflict with the Israelis. However, BESA’s Sandler believes they will eventually acquiesce.
“So far, the Palestinians have rejected the US as a mediator. Ultimately, they are going to have accept that they don’t have a better one,” he told The Media Line.
Locals who weighed in on the dedication ceremony had mixed opinions about the US role in mediating an end to the conflict.
“I don’t think Americans should be involved in the peace process,” said Jalal, a shopkeeper in the Old City’s Arab market, who asked that his last name not be used.
Israeli Amos Remer, on the other hand, said he felt the US was the country best suited to the job of mediator.
“Even if America isn’t the most [unbiased party]… I don’t see anyone who would be able to take America’s place that would be a better option as a broker for peace,” Remer said.
For Jews, the subterranean road is a significant find. Archaeologists believe it was used to go to the Temple during the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot, Shavuot and Passover.
“The road represents the last part of the journey,” Ari Levy, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, told The Media Line.
The road, which Levy says was most likely made of limestone, was completed by Pontius Pilate in the first century and stretched from the Siloam Pool in the City of David up to the Temple Mount.
Ambassador Friedman referred to the significance of the historic find, noting the pathway was where famous rabbis walked to the great Temple. He also noted that it was well-documented that Jesus had made the pilgrimage as well.
“It really enables us to go back in time,” Friedman said. “It’s not a relic or antiquity. It is intact today, a living, breathing piece of history that every one of us can experience for ourselves…. Were there any doubt about the accuracy, the wisdom, the propriety of [US] President [Donald] Trump making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, this lays all doubts to rest.”
(Shanna Fuld and Judith Sudilovsky contributed to this report.)