Last month, President Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It represented Trump delivering upon a promise he’d made–a promise that has been denigrated by many of Trump’s critics as something he’d never do–and the recognition of reality. Israel has annexed Jerusalem and the odds of any Israeli government returning half of that city to Palestinian control approaches zero.
The next step was the physical move of the embassy. Again, the same voices that claimed Trump would never recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were adamant that the announcement was bullsh** designed to dupe his followers. There was a bit of a false start two days ago when Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, while on a trip to India, stated that the move of the US Embassy would happen within a year. But now the administration is announcing that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem:
The Trump administration is accelerating efforts to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has decided to modify an existing property to accommodate the new mission that will open next year, U.S. officials said.
The U.S. won’t be building a new structure, in a shift from what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others from the Trump administration have said in describing the move recently. Mr. Tillerson has also said previously that the move is at least three years away.
“The secretary’s primary focus is on security,” said Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for diplomacy and public affairs. “We will not be moving to a new facility…we are going to retrofit a building,” which will be ready in 2019.
People familiar with the plans say officials intend to reconfigure portions of an existing U.S. consular facility in West Jerusalem, an area Israel has held since 1948, so that it can be designated as the U.S. Embassy.
“There is no plan for anything temporary,” Mr. Goldstein said.
There are several things at work here.
Even though the U.S. has a parcel of land identified for a U.S. Embassy and under lease since 1989, the fact is that construction is going to be a multi-year exercise. And, with any construction in Jerusalem, the odds of your work being interrupted by an archaeological discovery are pretty significant. Converting the existing consulate to an embassy can be done more quickly than building a new facility.
The message by converting the consulate is clear. Where the leased parcel is in a Jerusalem suburb, the consulate is in Jerusalem, proper, and it is situated exactly on the Green Line that separated Israeli and Arab Jerusalem after the 1949 War of Independence. That is a strong hint that the U.S. does not visualize Jerusalem being divided along those lines in the future.