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Friday, February 23, 2018

US Embassy in Jerusalem to open in May — in time for Yom Hatzmaot

The new US Embassy in Jerusalem will open in May 2018 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring independence, two Trump administration officials said Friday.

The officials said Congress was being notified of the impending move on Friday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the security plan for the new embassy on Thursday.

The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the plan publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.


A ribbon-cutting ceremony was being planned for mid-May. Israel proclaimed independence on May 14, 1948. According to Channel 10 and Hadashot news, the ceremony could be held on May 14 to honor that date.
The May opening marks a significant acceleration. Vice President Mike Pence had said previously the embassy would open by the end of 2019. And Tillerson had said it could take years.
A move so soon could be largely symbolic, as the logistics of a permanent relocation are expected to take time.
Initially, the embassy will consist of just a few offices inside an existing US facility in Jerusalem. Much of the embassy staff could continue to operate from Tel Aviv during the early stages.
Earlier Friday four US officials told The Associated Press that the Trump administration was considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of the new embassy.
Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, the administration officials said. The discussions are occurring as the new embassy clears its final bureaucratic hurdles.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended weeks of delay by signing off on a security plan for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly and demanded anonymity.
In one possible scenario, the administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but potentially from other donors in the evangelical and American Jewish communities, too. One official said Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and staunch supporter of Israel, had offered to pay the difference between the total cost — expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars — and what the administration is able to raise.
Under any circumstance, letting private citizens cover the costs of an official government building would mark a significant departure from historical US practice. In the Jerusalem case, it would add yet another layer of controversy to Trump’s politically charged decision to move the embassy, given Adelson’s longstanding affiliation with right-wing Israeli politics.
Since Trump’s announcement, his administration has been sifting through options for fast-tracking the Israel embassy’s relocation. Last month, Pence announced during a visit to Israel that the embassy would move by the end of 2019 — possibly earlier. Ambassador David Friedman, who lobbied for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has advocated moving the embassy as soon as possible.
The US has looked at several possible sites. The most likely plan involves a phased approach to opening the embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood at an existing US facility that handles consular affairs like passports and visas. The US could initially retrofit a small suite of offices in that facility to accommodate Friedman and one or two top aides such as his chief of staff.
That would allow the administration to hang an “embassy” sign over the door and formally open it.
The rest of the embassy staff would remain at first in America’s current facility in Tel Aviv. Over time, the Arnona facility would be expanded to accommodate more embassy personnel. The expansion could ultimately involve an adjacent property that currently houses a home for senior citizens. It will come under US control in the next few years under a previous arrangement, officials said.

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