U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Stalled, Despite Government Efforts

While the embassy was exempted from requiring a building permit, it hasn't gotten permission to build a wall around the new office - one of Trump's key demands

The Israeli flag flutters in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque and the city of Jerusalem, on December 1, 2017
THOMAS COEX/AFP

The conversion of the American consulate in Jerusalem into an embassy was exempted from needing a building permit, and a contractor has been chosen to do the work, but the chances of it being completed by Independence Day are slim, TheMarker has learned.

The reason is that no funds have been committed for building a wall around the embassy, one of the main safety precautions demanded by the Trump administration.

The project involving the transfer of the embassy to the capital made headlines a few weeks ago, with the U.S. administration announcing that the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem in May, close to Israel’s 70th independence celebrations. According to the plan, which waived the requirement of a building permit due to the intervention of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the embassy would first operate out of the consulate building in the Arnona neighborhood until a permanent site was selected.

Before moving David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador in Israel, to Jerusalem, the Americans posed some security demands. These included the paving of a 750-meter-long, 7-meter-wide escape route and the building of a 3.2-meter-high perimeter wall.

To do the work, the Americans chose the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, which issued their own bid for a subcontractor. Six million shekels (about $1.7 million) for paving the escape route will be provided by the Prime Minister’s Office, with the work expected to begin next week.

Before the holiday, Jerusalem municipality director-general Amnon Merhav sent a letter to the PMO, the Foreign Ministry and the head of the National Security Council, warning them of impediments to the building of the perimeter wall.

He stated there were no plans or blueprints for building the wall, without which the work could not be done. “This means that the work has little chance of being completed by mid-May,” he wrote. Merhav also said the city had not received a firm commitment by the state for financing the building of the wall. “Without such a commitment the work cannot commence,” he said.

Moriah’s attorney Doron Neuwirth confirmed the plans, adding that the project was complex, with security considerations and a short timetable.

The Jerusalem municipality said the road was budgeted and the work could begin. Funding for the wall was in the final stages of discussion.