US says will open Israel embassy in Jerusalem in May

Mike Pence had told Israeli parliament last month the move would occur by end of 2019

The United States Consulate building complex in West Jerusalem, photographed in 2017. File photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

The United States Consulate building complex in West Jerusalem, photographed in 2017. File photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

 

The United States said on Friday it will open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May, a move from Tel Aviv that reverses decades of US policy and is bound to trouble US allies who have already objected.

US president Donald Trump announced last December that the US was recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating even Washington’s Arab allies and dismaying Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as their capital.

No other country has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Mr Trump’s decision has sown discord between the US and EU over Middle East peace efforts.

‘Historic step’

“We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening,” US state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, noting it will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

The embassy in Jerusalem will be gradually expanded in existing consular facilities in the Arnona neighbourhood, while the search for a permanent site has already begun for what Ms Nauert called a “longer-term undertaking”.

The interim embassy will have office space for the ambassador and a small staff. By the end of 2019, a new embassy annex on the Arnona compound will be opened, Ms Nauert said in a statement.

The consulate in East Jerusalem will continue to serve Palestinians, and for security reasons US ambassador David Friedman will continue living in the residence in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, and commute to the relocated embassy, another official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A May opening is earlier than expected – US vice-president Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament last month that the move would take place by the end of 2019.

‘An unacceptable step’

Palestinians reacted to the news with anger. “This is an unacceptable step. Any unilateral move will not give legitimacy to anyone and will be an obstacle to any effort to create peace in the region,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is in the US until Saturday.

An Israeli government source said prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to visit the White House on March 5th, is in contact with the Trump administration and would respond when the US makes an announcement.

In a speech on Friday to a gathering of conservatives in suburban Washington, Mr Trump recalled his controversial decision, saying he had withstood enormous pressure against making the move.

“I put the word out that I may do it. I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it’,” Mr Trump said.

“I said we have to do it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do, we have to do it. And I did it.” – Reuters