Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives. (Photo/JTA-Flickr Commons-Dan)
Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives. (Photo/JTA-Flickr Commons-Dan)

Trump to move U.S. embassy in May, Adelson offers to fund new building

The Trump administration will formally move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

“We’re planning to open the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May,” a State Department spokesman told JTA in an email. “The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.”

The spokesman did not reveal a specific date, but May 14 would mark 70 years since Israel’s establishment.

The spokesman said the embassy would be located in a neighborhood in southern Jerusalem that is on the side that Israel held before 1967 but runs along the seam of what was then the border.

“The Embassy will initially be located in Arnona, on a compound that currently houses the consular operations of [the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem],” he said.

The administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of the new embassy building, four U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian in Las Vegas, March 29, 2014. (Photo/JTA-Ethan Miller-Getty Images)
Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian in Las Vegas, March 29, 2014. (Photo/JTA-Ethan Miller-Getty Images)

Building a new embassy will take at least three years, and the spokesman suggested that at least for now, much of the daily operation of the embassy will remain in Tel Aviv.

“At least initially, it will consist of the Ambassador and a small team,” the spokesman said of the Jerusalem operation.

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 told the news agency, which today published an article on the reported plan.

In one possible scenario, the administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but also potentially from other donors in the evangelical and American Jewish communities. One official said Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and staunch supporter of Israel, had offered to pay the difference between the total cost, which is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and what the administration is able to raise.

Previously, Trump administration officials had said the embassy move would take place in 2019. President Donald Trump has heralded his Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as one of the highlights of his administration so far. He earned lengthy applause on Friday from the CPAC annual conservative conference in Washington when he mentioned the Jerusalem recognition.

Another source apprised of the move provided JTA with a timeline for the move: In phase one, starting in May, Ambassador David Friedman and some staff will begin working out of the consular section at a cost of about $300,000 to $500,000. In phase two, by the end of 2019, an annex on site will be constructed for a more permanent working space for the ambassador, staff, and a classified processing site. That will cost $10-15 million, and the security arrangement will cost at least $45 million. Phase three, the site selection and construction of a new embassy, will take up to nine years.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.