Foreign Ministry’s NIS 50m plan aims to help nations move embassies to Jerusalem

Israeli hopes of a diplomatic run on the capital have sputtered, with the US and Guatemala the only missions out of 88 in the country to relocate to the capital

View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry is said to be preparing a new NIS 50 million ($14.2 million) plan to encourage and subsidize the move of embassies to Jerusalem.

Some 86 embassies of foreign states are stationed in Tel Aviv, while just two — those of the United States and Guatemala — are in Jerusalem, both having moved to Israel’s capital last year.

Now, the Israel Hayom daily reported Sunday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who was appointed to the post in February, is drafting a plan that will prioritize encouraging more embassies to make the move, including setting aside funds to help governments that decide to take the plunge.

The plan is expected to be presented to the cabinet for a vote in the coming weeks. The text of the cabinet decision will characterize encouraging more embassies to move to Jerusalem as a “national diplomatic and strategic goal of the first order,” the paper reported.

The Netanyahu government has depicted US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 as a “historic” turning point, which was followed up by the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May of last year. Guatemala followed suit soon after.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd-L) Guatemala President Jimmy Morales (C) and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel (2R) at the official opening of the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

But the effort seemed to run aground after that, with Paraguay’s then-president Horacio Manuel Cartes briefly moving his country’s embassy before the decision was reversed by his successor, Mario Abdo Benitez.

A handful of trade missions — run by Australia and the Czech Republic, for example — were opened in the capital by close allies of Israel, but no further progress was made on the move of full-fledged embassies.

The new proposal comes after Katz reportedly discovered upon entering the foreign minister’s post that several countries have agreed in principle to move their embassies, but asked Israel to reciprocate in various ways and had not received a positive response.

Honduras and El Salvador are listed in the report as examples: both nations are said to have agreed to open embassies in Jerusalem, but asked in return for Israel to open full-fledged embassies in their capitals. Israel never agreed to the requests.

Other unnamed countries asked for development aid, or for Israel to use its close ties to the US to open doors for them in Washington, or for financial help with funding the embassy move.

President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman (2R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2L) attend the opening ceremony of the Czech House in Jerusalem, November 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In all cases, Katz has argued, Israeli officials either declined or failed to respond altogether.

The new proposal wants to take advantage of what Katz views as a latent potential to facilitate more embassy relocations in the very near future.

The plan includes setting aside NIS 50 million ($14.2 million) starting in the 2020 state budget for a fund that will be controlled by Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem and will be tasked with helping foreign governments find and acquire real estate in Jerusalem, obtain necessary permits from municipal and other state regulators, and even assist with actions they ask for in exchange for the move, such as opening an embassy in their country.

The move of embassies to Jerusalem is opposed by Palestinians and much of the international community on the grounds that it amounts to recognizing Israel’s claim to sole sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and thus precludes a future Palestinian state from having its capital in the city’s eastern half.

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