Top city officials in Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat and his deputy Meir Turgeman say they have been contacted by American parties to find a suitable location to build an American embassy in Jerusalem, after President-elect Donald Trump vowed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv.
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However, city planning officials shrug that there’s no need to build anything new to house the embassy in the Israeli capital: The Americans built a big new consulate in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, which had been planned in advance to be converted into the actual embassy one day. All the Americans need to do is change the sign on the door, they say.
The idea of housing the American envoy to Israel in a new building in Jerusalem arose during George Shultz’s term as secretary of state, under Ronald Reagan. Briefly visiting Israel in the late 1980s, Shultz gave the order to find land for an embassy.
The consulate staff located a few possibilities, one of which, on the intersection of Hebron and Yanovsky streets, was subsequently earmarked by the Israel Lands Administration for the embassy. Israel and Washington even signed an agreement to constrain the height of buildings around that lot to 300 meters, to meet future security requirements.
However in 2002 the Americans bought a different lot altogether, quite close by, between Arnona and the Diplomat Hotel – in an area that had been no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967. That is where the consulate went up in 2010.
The consulate, which was planned by American architects, has 19,500 square meters of built-up area (based on the blueprints given to Israeli planning authorities). Architects say that even if a lot of that is parking space and the like, it’s a big building – not much smaller than the present American embassy in Tel Aviv. Moreover, two other older consulate offices, one on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem (which also represents the U.S. in the West Bank) and one on Agron Street, will continue to operate.
Meanwhile, the deputy Jerusalem mayor on behalf of the Wake-Up Jerusalem faction, Ofer Berkovitch, said that while Donald Trump plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli government itself operates 75 government units outside the capital, in violation of its own basic law on Jerusalem. Berkovitch called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the finance minister to immediately move all ministries to Jerusalem “before it’s too late and the Israeli government is disgraced.”