Jerusalem authorities advance planning for new US embassy

Capital’s building and planning committee greenlights construction plans for massive compound on Hebron Road; still requires additional approvals before ground can be broken

View of the US consulate in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood, shortly before the building became the American embassy in Israel, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
View of the US consulate in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood, shortly before the building became the American embassy in Israel, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Jerusalem municipal authorities on Monday advanced planning for the new US embassy compound in the city.

The Jerusalem District Building and Planning Committee approved the project through an earlier planning stage known as deposit. Those who protest the plan will now have 60 days to file objections before the project is given final approval for construction.

Currently, the US embassy is hosted in the former consulate building in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona until a permanent complex is built.

The plan passed an earlier planning stage last month during then-US president Donald Trump’s final days in office.

In a move welcomed by Israel and bitterly opposed by the Palestinians, the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city in 2018. It was one of a string of diplomatic gifts delivered by Trump to Israel.

The Jerusalem site formerly known as the Allenby Barracks, a planned location for a second campus of the US Embassy (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

US President Joe Biden is expected to take a more balanced approach toward Israel and the Palestinians, but he has said he does not plan on moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv.

The plan to build a permanent embassy structure in Jerusalem was approved in 2019; in January, Jerusalem municipal authorities said they had given preliminary approval to a location for the permanent US embassy in the city, on the so-called Allenby compound bordered by Hebron Road in southern Jerusalem. The city also approved an extension to the existing 12,800 square meter (138,000 foot) temporary embassy on David Flusser Street in the Arnona neighborhood, a 20-minute walk away. Some Arnona residents are opposing the extension.

One of the campuses will serve as the embassy, with the other one containing housing for staff, recreational facilities, and possibly a new official residence for the US ambassador. Hassan-Nahoum said she understood that the State Department was still looking at other possible arrangements.

At present, the ambassador is living at the former US Consulate in a historic building on Jerusalem’s downtown Agron Street, but this is said to be too small for the purpose. Hassan-Nahoum said this site would likely be retained for embassy events and conferences.

The total cost of construction for both campuses is estimated at $600 million and the architects are the US firm Krueck Sexton and the Israeli company Studio Yigal Levy. The planning process is expected to take at least two years.

While the Arnona campus is largely underground, the 60,618 square meter (652,000 square foot) Hebron Road plot, with 31,073 meters of built space, will feature a ten-story office building (shown in gray), a four-story residential building (in beige), several floors of parking (pink) and support facilities. The site is bordered on its southern side by David Yanovsky Street, from where access to the campus will be provided.

Plans for a new US Embassy campus on the Hebron Road in Jerusalem.

According to The Forward, however, the State Department has already ruled out the Allenby location because it does not meet safety rules created after the 1998 bombings by al-Qaeda of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Hebron Road is the inner city section of Route 60, which connects the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.

Currently in an abandoned state, the plot has a rich history. During the British Mandate period, it housed the so-called Allenby Barracks, named after the UK’s General Edmund Allenby, who operated an army base there. Later, the State of Israel maintained a border police station there.

The site is near an invisible line that divides West and East Jerusalem, the part of the city captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and claimed by the Palestinians for a future capital. It was not immediately clear if it crosses the boundary.

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