WASHINGTON – The United States will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May to coincide with Israel's 70th Independence Day, the State Department said late February, in a move reversing decades of U.S. policy.
"In May, the United States plans to open a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary," the State Department said in a statement.
"We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening," the statement added.
The embassy will initially be located in a facility in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood that handles consular affairs, such as passports and visas. At first, the embassy will only acommodate U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and a small team of staff. The site of a future permanent embassy has yet to be found, according to the State Department.
While Israel's independence day is, technically, on May 14, the holiday is celebrated in Israel according to the Hebrew date – the fifth day of Iyar. This year, Independence Day celebrations will start on the evening of April 18 and will finish on April 19.
Unable to release official statements on Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his response to the U.S. announcement through the Israeli embassy in Washington.
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"This is a great day for the people of Israel," Netanyahu said in the statement. "This decision will turn the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence into an even bigger celebration. Thank you, President Trump, for your leadership and your friendship."
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about the plan to move the embassy during his appearance before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
"It was the right thing to do," Trump said. "I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me not to do it. Don't do it. And I said – 'we have to do it, it's the right thing to do.'"
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz congratulated Trump on the decision, writing on Twitter: "There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!"
Responding to the news, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer tweeted: "May 14th 1948, President Truman recognizes Israel. May 14th 2018, @POTUS Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. 70 years apart.Two historic decisions. One united capital."
Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee and a chief negotiator, slammed the U.S. administration over its announcement.
Erekat said the intention to move the embassy shows that Washington is determined to "violate international law, destroy the two-state solution, and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people, as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe."
The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of the new embassy. Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, administration officials said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended weeks of delay by signing off on a security plan for moving the embassy, according to the officials, who weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and demanded anonymity.
Since Trump's announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, his administration has been sifting through options for fast-tracking the Israel embassy's relocation.
Guatemala's embassy in Israel moved on May 1st to its new location in Jerusalem at the Malkha Technology Park. The official ceremony celebrating the move will take place on May 16, after the U.S. relocates its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with the likely attendance of Guatemalean president Jimmy Morales.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this story