Up until now, the timetable for the highly controversial move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was vague and not terribly immediate. Originally it was assumed the changeover would take three or four years. But during his trip to the Middle East last month, Vice-President Mike Pence told the Israeli Knesset that it would happen by the end of 2019. That raised eyebrows not just because of the firestorm the subject has raised in the region, but because there’s no suitable facility for the embassy in Jerusalem at this point.
Today we learned that the embassy move would now happen on May 14, 2018. Axios has the story:
According to Israeli officials, in the first phase an “interim embassy” will be opened at the consular annex in West Jerusalem that handles visas and passports. The office of the ambassador will move to the building, and Ambassador David Friedman will work from there with a small staff.
The consular annex will change its name to the U.S. embassy. The building, located in the Arnona neighborhood, will be an interim embassy and the permanent location of the embassy will be determined at a later stage.
It actually appears the move will involve a three-stage process that could well take as long as the original plan. The ambassador’s residence, for example, will remain in its current site near Tel Aviv, and the existing embassy will become a “branch” of the Jerusalem embassy.
One factor complicating the construction of an actual new embassy in Jerusalem involves the Trump administration’s apparent interest in financing a lavish new facility by supplementing public funds with private donations, mostly from “donors in the evangelical Christian and American Jewish communities,” according to the Associated Press. Indeed, heaping controversy on top of controversy, the administration is mulling an apparent offer from casino mogul and global right-wing political busybody Sheldon Adelson to cover whatever costs it can’t defray from other sources. The whole idea is unprecedented, AP notes:
Under any circumstance, letting private citizens cover the costs of an official government building would mark a significant departure from historical U.S. 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.
So what’s the big rush, given all the complications? May 14 is the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence. And so this largely symbolic if politically fraught act will be driven by symbolism, not practical considerations. And it will happen before anyone has time to rethink it.