State Department Says US Embassy in Jerusalem to Open in May

(CN) – The State Department announced Friday that the United States will open its new Israeli embassy in Jerusalem in May.

In a written statement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the opening “will coincide with Israel’s 70 anniversary.”

Initially, the embassy will be located in the Arnona neighborhood, in a modern building that now houses consular operations of U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem, Nauert said.

“Those consular operations, including American citizen and visa services, will continue at the Arnona facility without interruption, as part of the Embassy,” the statement continued. “Consulate General Jerusalem will continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate, from its historic Agron Road location.”

The State Department plan is for the interim embassy in Arnona to contain office space for the ambassador and a small staff.

By the end of next year, however, the department intends to open a new Embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space.

“In parallel, we have started the search for a site for our permanent embassy to Israel,” Nauert said. “The planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking.”

President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, 2017, and announced plans to relocate the US embassy, currently based in Tel Aviv, to the city.

The announcement, long-sought by Israel, breaks with decades of US policy and inspired  strong objections from Palestinian officials.

It also suggest a dramatically stepped-up timeline for the move. As recently as last month, Vice President Mike Pence said the embassy would likely open in 2019.

Hours before the State Department announcement, President Trump boasted of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington.

“You know, every president campaigned on, ‘We’re going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,'” Trump said as the room erupted in applause.  “Everybody — for many Presidents — you’ve been reading it.  And then they never pulled it off.  And I now know why.

“Because I put the word out that I may do it.  Right?  I said, I’d do it in my campaign, so that usually means — unless I find something — I’m going to do it.  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.  It’s the right thing to do.  We have to do it.’  And I did it,” the president said.

In related news, the Associated Press reported Friday that the Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, the AP said.

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