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WASHINGTON: Top US officials insisted on Sunday (May 13) that they could still push forward the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process despite outrage across the Arab world over the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem.
Speaking on the eve of the embassy opening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful of success in efforts to end the decades-old conflict while National Security Advisor John Bolton said it should make peace "easier."
President Donald Trump's decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv broke with generations of international consensus that Jerusalem's status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday to protest the embassy opening.
The Palestinian Authority's leadership has effectively refused to speak to Trump's team since the move was announced, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is supposed to be spearheading a new drive for peace. Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's delegation in Washington described the move as another step toward "a full-fledged apartheid."
"Tragically, the US administration has chosen to side with Israel's exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths," he said in a statement. "Today's move of the US embassy gives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace."
Asked in an interview with reporters about whether there was any life left in the peace process, Pompeo responded by saying "the peace process is most decidedly not dead."
"We're hard at work on it. We hope we can achieve a successful outcome there as well," said Pompeo whose first two weeks in office have been largely consumed with arranging a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
As well as the protests by the Palestinians, demonstrations are expected on Monday in other Arab capitals where governments have argued that the status of Jerusalem should only form part of a final peace agreement.
Pompeo said he was aware that there could be security concerns for US embassies and citizens in the region in the coming days.
"The United States government has taken a number of actions to ensure that not only our governmental interests but the American people in that region are secure as well, and we're comfortable we've taken action that reduces that risk," said the top US diplomat.
Bolton meanwhile said the opening of the embassy in a city which the Palestinians also want to make the capital of their promised future state would actually enhance the prospects of peace.
"I think it will make it easier. It's a recognition of reality," he told reporters.
"If you're not prepared to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that's where the American embassy should be, then you're operating on a completely different wavelength.
"I think recognising reality always enhances the chances for peace."
Washington's ambassador to Israel also said that there is still hope for peace in the region.
Acknowledging the Palestinian anger, David Friedman told Fox that the mood "will change over time because they will understand that the United States continues to extend its hand in peace and people need to focus on what's important, the quality of life, more infrastructure, more security, better hospitals."
Friedman in the past has been a supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has decried Washington's embassy move as a "provocation to all Arabs," and the opening falls on May 14 which this year marks 70 years since Israel's declaration of independence - which Palestinians call Naqba, their "day of catastrophe."
Fifty-four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since mass protests broke out along the border on Mar 30. No Israelis have been injured.