Trump Administration to Open Embassy in Jerusalem in May
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to formally move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state, two American officials said on Friday.
The State Department will formally designate a facility in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood that currently used for consular affairs as an embassy, even as plans proceed to eventually build a new compound that could take several more years to open.
President Trump on Friday boasted of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, drawing enthusiastic applause.
While other presidents held back from such a move for fear of triggering a backlash among Arabs and prejudging final peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Trump said he defied “incredible” pressure to do what he considered the right thing.
“You know, every president campaigned on, ‘We’re going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ everybody, for many presidents, you’ve been reading it, and then they never pulled it off, and I now know why,” Mr. Trump said. “I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I said, ‘We have to do it, it’s the right thing to do.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment. But a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition welcomed the plan to go ahead with an embassy move. “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US @POTUS on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel’s 70th Independence Day,” Israel Katz, the minister of transportation and intelligence, wrote on Twitter. “There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!”
Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Israel last month that the embassy would open in Jerusalem by the end of 2019. American officials on Friday did not comment on why they decided to go ahead and designate a temporary facility this spring, but it will carry special emotional resonance in Israel coming on its Independence Day on May 14, the anniversary of the state’s founding in 1948.
President Harry S. Truman recognized Israel minutes after it declared independence, making the United States the first country to do so.
A new embassy will take between six to eight years to construct, said a State Department official, who like others demanded anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the issue.
The Arnona building, where visas and passports are processed, is not nearly big enough for the embassy’s entire staff. Only the ambassador, a chief of staff and a staff secretary will be situated there in its first years of operation, the official said. Much of the rest of the embassy personnel will remain for now in Tel Aviv.
Israel has always made Jerusalem its capital but the Palestinians have also claimed the city as the capital of a future state. Until Mr. Trump’s decision last year, no other country located its embassy in Jerusalem to avoid seeming to take sides in the dispute.
Most American peace negotiators have assumed that Jerusalem would ultimately serve as capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state in an eventual agreement, but advised against preemptively declaring it the Israeli capital before negotiations are finalized.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is in preliminary discussions with Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate, Republican donor and prominent Israel backer, for a donation to potentially pay for at least some of the cost of constructing a new embassy complex, the State Department official said. The Associated Press reported that State Department lawyers are looking into the legality of such a move.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.