Israeli red tape may hold up US embassy move to Jerusalem – report

PM vows to cut through bureaucracy to ensure necessary construction at site approved in time for planned May 14 opening

View of the US Consulate in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the US Consulate in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The planned move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring independence, may be delayed due to Israeli bureaucracy, according to a Tuesday report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly vowed to cut through the red tape.

Over the past few days American officials have reportedly met with the relevant Israeli authorities to get permission for urgent security-related construction work they say is necessary to convert the existing consulate in the Arnona neighborhood in southern Jerusalem into an embassy.

According to the report on the Hadashot TV news outlet, the Americans want to build a three-meter wall around the site and pave a new road from the site, among other changes. However, the site’s current zoning status does not allow for such changes.

Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem reportedly sent a letter to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, warning that if the construction work was not granted an immediate exemption and the red tape wasn’t cut, the planned embassy move on May 14 would be at risk.

“The process of requesting an amendment to the existing outline plan is expected to take a long time, and will not allow completion of the work on the date set for the embassy’s move,” wrote Rotem. “Without these works being completed, the compound will not meet the mandatory requirements of the State Department for the American Embassy.”

Approving the zoning changes requires a meeting of the National Council for Planning and Building. However, the proximity to the Passover festival, which begins on March 30, may make it difficult for the body to convene.

Shortly after the report aired, Netanyahu promised to act to ensure the move will go ahead as planned.

“The prime minister will act decisively and quickly to ensure that the American embassy will move at the planned time and he will not allow unnecessary bureaucracy to harm the process,” his office said in a statement.

Last month, Netanyahu invited US President Donal Trump to Jerusalem for the planned May ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Since Trump’s announcement on December 6 that the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planned to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, his administration has been sifting through options for fast-tracking the relocation.

According to reports, the US will initially retrofit a small suite of offices in the consulate facility to accommodate Friedman and key aides, while Friedman will still also maintain an office at the current embassy in Tel Aviv, which would henceforth be considered a branch of the Jerusalem embassy. Jerusalem consular staff will continue to provide consular services such as issuing passports and visas at the building. (The US Consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street, which is responsible for Palestinian areas, will continue to function as before.)

The rest of the embassy staff will remain at first in America’s current facility in Tel Aviv. Over time, the Arnona facility will be expanded to accommodate more embassy personnel. The expansion could ultimately involve an adjacent property that currently houses a home for senior citizens. It will come under US control in the next few years under a previous arrangement, officials said.

Finally, a new purpose-built embassy will be planned and constructed.

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