Jerusalem – The US Embassy invited a settler leader to President Donald Trump’s keynote speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday.
“Dear Guest: You are cordially invited to a speech by The Honorable Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America,” read the simple email, which Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel received from the embassy on Sunday.
“It’s the first time the US Embassy has invited me to an event,” Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post, noting that he has been in office since 1992.
The email marked a sharp contrast from former president Barack Obama’s 2013 visit, when he created waves by excluding students from Ariel University, located in the Ariel settlement, from his speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
The invitation gave him hope, Kashriel said, that the administration would understand that his city – the third largest settlement – should be part of Israel’s sovereign borders.
“I was invited by the ambassador of the United States [David Friedman] to this meeting. I think that the invitation says a lot for our future in Ma’aleh Adumim and in Judea and Samaria in general.”
Embassy officials at the event said the guest list had been worked out together with the Prime Minister’s Office and that they did not receive details about who was on it.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman were also invited, albeit via the Prime Minister’s Office.
Kashriel said he met Friedman at the airport when he attended Trump’s welcoming ceremony and had spoken to the envoy about his city and its fight for sovereignty.
Right-wing politicians and Kashriel have embarked on a campaign to sway the Knesset and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex his city, of 38,000, which is located just outside of Jerusalem.
Israel holds that the city will be part of the country’s final borders in any two-state agreement that is reached.
But the Palestinians believe the territory on which Ma’aleh Adumim is located is essential for the viability of their future state and must be within its borders.
Construction has dropped in Ma’aleh Adumim under Netanyahu, and Kashriel believes this was the direct result of pressure from the Obama administration.
So he was excited that Trump, in his museum speech, “didn’t talk about the settlements. He didn’t ask or demand to freeze building in the settlements,” Kashriel said.
“I was invited to this meeting among only 300 people and not more – by the Americans,” he said. “I think that we will be allowed to build in Ma’aleh Adumim specifically and in Judea and Samaria in general,” Kashriel said, adding that he believed Trump was a “good friend” of the State of Israel.
Dagan, the Samaria Regional Council head, who was the only settler leader to endorse Trump prior to the election, called the speech “unprecedented” adding that it opened an historic opportunity for Netanyahu to push forward with increased building in Judea and Samaria.
“There aren’t any more excuses” for not building, Dagan said. “It’s clear that even if the American government would oppose such building, it would not fight against it.”
Gush Etzion head Ne’eman said proof of the US-Israel friendship would be acceptance of Israeli building over the pre-1967 lines, in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.