Netanyahu Moves Up Plans to Approve New U.S. Embassy Building in Jerusalem

Israel rushes project onto city licensing agenda as sources say there is concern that Biden may slow U.S. Embassy building plans

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A bus decorated with Israeli and U.S. flags and a message welcoming the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018.
A bus decorated with Israeli and U.S. flags and a message welcoming the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018.Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Under pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, Jerusalem’s planning commission approved on Wednesday plans to build a permanent U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, less than a week before Joe Biden is inaugurated.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon called the decision "a historic and exciting moment, which is happening against the backdrop of the political shift we're witnessing these," referring to Israel's normalization deals with several Arab countries.

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President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the U.S. embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where it opened the following year at the consular office building in the Arnona neighborhood.

Since then, the U.S. has, with the encouragement of local Israeli building authorities, been planning the construction of a new building to serve as a permanent home for the embassy. They have been examining two options: expanding the existing building or building a new one. Both plans have advanced though city hall’s planning channels.

On Tuesday, the local planning commission were notified of a change in the schedule for their weekly meeting, which did not initially include any items for discussion of construction plans. But at the request of senior city officials, both U.S. Embassy plans were raised for the commission’s approval after the usual agenda on construction permits. The change was first reported by Kan public broadcaster. 

Municipality sources said pressure to put those plans on the agenda came from the Prime Minister’s Office, with the aim of winning approval before Joe Biden takes office on January 20 for fear that Washington may slow down the project after the administration changeover.

The plan to expand the existing embassy includes vacating and demolishing the nearby Diplomat Hotel, where dozens of elderly immigrants from former Soviet countries live, and to destroy the building. They also include the chopping down of hundreds of trees inside the construction zone. The second plan would establish a number of 10-story buildings in a compound that would be surrounded by a wall three-and-a-half meters high.

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