Friday, February 23, 2018

U.S. Embassy In Jerusalem To Open In May 2018, In Time For Israel's 70th Anniversary, Palestinians Say Move 'Provocative'

US Embassy in Jerusalem to open in May -- in time for Israel's 70th anniversary

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. At first, the embassy will operate out of the US’s current consular premises in Arnona, south Jerusalem.
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 State Department confirmed the timing of the move, with an official telling The Times of Israel: “We are planning to open the new US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.”

The official said, “The Embassy will initially be located in Arnona [in south Jerusalem], on a compound that currently houses the consular operations of Consulate General Jerusalem. At least initially, it will consist of the Ambassador and a small team.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is 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. (Israel celebrates its anniversary of independence according to the Hebrew calendar; Independence Day — Yom Ha’Atzmaut — falls on April 19 this year.)

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.
The date of the move is seen as largely symbolic, as the logistics of a permanent relocation are expected to take much longer. Most of the embassy staff could continue to operate from Tel Aviv during the early stages.
Staff at the consulate were told Friday that, as of mid-May, they would be considered employees of the embassy, Channel 10 reported.
In its initial phase, Ambassador David Friedman will move to the consular premises, Channel 10 said, and the building will be formally redesignated as the US Embassy.
Channel 10 quoted aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau saying he had not pressed for this accelerated process. The TV report noted, however, that a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony at a US embassy in Jerusalem in less than three months, as he battles corruption allegations, is well-timed from his perspective

The US will initially retrofit a small suite of offices in the facility to accommodate Friedman, and key aides, while Friedman will still also maintain an office at the current embassy in Tel Aviv, which would henceforth be considered a branch of the Jerusalem embassy, Channel 10 said. Jerusalem consular staff will continue to provide consular services such as issuing passports and visas at the building. (The US Consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street, which is responsible for Palestinian areas, will continue to function as before.)

Finally, a new purpose-built embassy will be planned and constructed.
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.
Since Trump’s announcement on December 6 that the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planned to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, his administration has been sifting through options for fast-tracking the relocation. Last month, Pence announced during a visit to Israel that the embassy would move by the end of 2019 — possibly earlier. Ambassador Friedman, who lobbied for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has advocated moving the embassy as soon as possible.

The Palestinian Authority on Friday responded in anger to news that the US administration plans to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, and said “unilateral” moves will not contribute to achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
Hamas, for its part, warned that the decision would lead to an “explosion” in the region.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat dubbed the decision announced earlier Friday a “flagrant violation of international law and agreements” signed between the Palestinians and Israel. The decision will “destroy” the two-state solution, he cautioned.

The State Department confirmed Friday afternoon: “We are planning to open the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.” US President Donald Trump stressed Friday that foreign countries begged him, “Don’t do it, don’t do it,” but that it was “the right thing to do.”

Denouncing the move as “provocative to the feelings of all Arabs and Muslims,” Erekat pointed out that the US administration’s date for moving the embassy to Jerusalem coincided with the Nakba anniversary.
Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) is the word used by Palestinians to describe the establishment of Israel in 1948. The US is set to redesignate its Arnona consular facility in southern Jerusalem as its embassy on May 14 — precisely 70 years after Israel declared independence. (Israel celebrates its anniversary of independence according to the Hebrew calendar; Independence Day — Yom Ha’Atzmaut — falls on April 19 this year.)

“We condemn this decision in the strongest possible terms,” Erekat added. “This decision affirms that the US administration has removed itself from playing any sponsorship role in the peace process. Because of such decisions, the US has become part of the problem and therefore can’t be part of any solution.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for the PA presidency in Ramallah, said “Any step that is not consistent with international legitimacy would obstruct any effort to achieve a settlement in the region. It will also create harmful and negative climates.”

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Kanou responded to the US decision by saying it “won’t change the facts and features” of Jerusalem.
“The decision will not give Israel any legitimacy,” the Hamas official said. “Nor will it change anything in the city. This decision will serve as a trigger for an explosion of the entire region in the face of Israel.”

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