Posted: 12:45 pm PT
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In November, we blogged about the potential move of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (see Will the US Embassy Move From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?). There were two related ongoing construction work at USG properties in Israel — a $50M renovation at US Embassy Tel Aviv, and ongoing work of undetermined cost at a consular annex for US Consulate General Jerusalem. Last month, we learned that both projects were put on hold the day after the election.
On December 12, Dana Weiss from Israel’s Channel2News tweeted, “Trump’s team already checking where and how to move embassy to Jerusalem. Among options Diplomat hotel . This week Israeli Foreign | Started to check availability as the hotel houses elderly. Was told not possible until 2020. Security sources are anxious the move | Would backlash and question the Arab response.”
In June 2014, YNet reported that the U.S. Government holds the option of purchasing land in the Arnona neighborhood, where the consulate is located. This land reportedly includes the Diplomat hotel that currently serves the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
A US administration official said that “Under the terms of its commercial lease agreement, the USG has the option to purchase the property we currently occupy in Arnona and acquire our landlord’s remaining leasehold interests in the adjacent property, which is the site of the Diplomat Hotel.
“The USG has exercised that option and intends to continue using the site as the Consular Annex of the US Consulate General, where we have provided American citizen services and visa services since 2010. Under the terms of the USG’s lease, once the option is exercised, the landlord is required to provide the USG vacant possession of the adjacent property, likely, in 2016.”
The actual move should it happen, requires the involvement of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) which directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad under the authority of the chiefs of mission, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security tasks with securing personnel and overseas facilities.
On the potential backlash for this move, Uri Savir, former diplomat and Israeli Chief Negotiator of the Oslo Accords wrote in AlMonitor that Cairo greeted Donald Trump’s election positively and that the Egyptian ambassador to Washington was in contact with president-elect Donald Trump. Egypt is reportedly looking at improved relations with Washington under a President Trump but one topic that was discreetly raised by the Egyptians is the potential move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: “Cairo cannot commit to an improved relationship if the US Embassy to Israel is moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Given the sentiments in Egyptian public opinion toward the Palestinians and the city, which is holy to Islam, Cairo considers this issue as a red line.”
A senior PLO official talking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity explained that “for the Palestinians, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is a “casus belli” (a provocation of war), thus they are planning a series of measures in case this will indeed take place. Ramallah is coordinating these measures with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Arab League. The official cited five measures: abolishing of the Oslo Accord (and all elements of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians); severing diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel and also between Jordan and Israel; canceling the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a relevant document; calling upon the international community to sever diplomatic ties with Israel; and planning an armed Al-Quds intifada.”
Mr. Savir concludes, “it is clear that such a move would create havoc in the Arab world.”