Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has approved security arrangements for moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, and the official opening may come as early as Israel’s Independence Day in mid-May, a State Department official said.
The embassy, initially to be located in the current premises of the US Consulate in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, will eventually be moved to new premises President Donald Trump has said will be constructed.
The cost of that building is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor, has offered to fund an unspecified part of the construction, according to an administration official who confirmed an Associated Press report.
Adelson is a strong supporter of both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and owns a pro-Netanyahu newspaper in Israel.
Private financing of an embassy could raise significant problems. Steven Goldstein, the undersecretary for public affairs, said State Department attorneys were looking at the legality of such a gift but that no formal talks about it had taken place. In recent months, Trump has criticized what he has called extravagant spending on embassies, including the new $1 billion mission in London that opened last month.
Palestinian leadership slammed US decision
The Palestinian leadership on Friday slammed the US decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem in May.
“The American administration’s decisions to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and choose the Palestinian people’s Nakba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law,” Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) number two Saeb Erekat said.
He said the result would be “the destruction of the two state option, as well as a blatant provocation to all Arabs and Muslims.”
Goldstein said Tillerson had signed the security plan late Thursday for moving the embassy to the current US Consulate facility, a final hurdle for implementing the decision Trump announced in December. “Safety and security have been and always will be primary” for Tillerson, Goldstein said. Trump’s proposed 2019 budget significantly cut funding for protection of US diplomatic facilities overseas.
The Jerusalem consulate currently issues visas and attends to the needs of visiting American citizens, while other official business is conducted in the embassy in Tel Aviv. Once the consulate is designated the official embassy, Ambassador David Friedman and several aides will maintain offices in both places, said the State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter.
Trump’s announcement recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering that the embassy be moved broke decades of US policy. The announcement was widely condemned in the Arab world and beyond. The United Nations General Assembly voted 128-9 in favour of a nonbinding resolution rejecting recognition of Jerusalem.
White House aide Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has been tasked with drawing up a new Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal, expected to be presented to the two sides shortly.