Mayor Barkat: Okay for enlarged building will boost our ties

Jerusalem fast-tracks approval of major US embassy expansion

Mayor signs permits for 700-square-meter annex at former consulate, including new offices, service areas and entrances

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The Jerusalem municipality fast-tracked building permits to enlarge the size of the US embassy, which relocated to the capital on May 14.

The plans, reported by Hadashot TV news on Thursday, include an expansion of office space, creation of new entrances, and additional areas for providing services to the public.

In total, the council approved an expansion of 700 square meters (7,500 square feet) — 350 square meters (3,700 square feet) below ground and 350 square meters enlarging the existing second floor.

The expansion will allow more staff and services to be transferred from the former Tel Aviv embassy to the compound in the capital.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the US embassy, Jerusalem, May 30, 2018, posing ahead of a Times of Israel interview (Matty Stern, US embassy Jerusalem)

An official in the Jerusalem municipality said that it was only the first stage in the planned expansion at the embassy site.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hangs the first sign pointing to the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018 (Jerusalem Municipality)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the expansion.

“The permits that I signed yesterday for the US embassy in Jerusalem are another stage in establishing and setting the role of the embassy in Israel’s capital,” he said.

Barkat added that the approval for the extensions “will strengthen the connection between Israel and the US,” adding that he also wanted to support the “strategic decision” of US President Donald Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem last December.

Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy delighted the Israelis and enraged the Palestinians, who want to establish their future capital in the east of the city, and who say Trump’s decision ignores their demands.

US President Donald Trump signs a memorandum after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)

In order to quickly open the embassy in time for Israel’s 70th anniversary, the existing consulate was repurposed, pending planning and construction of a new embassy, ​​a long-term project, according to the US State Department.

“We’re going to have it built very quickly and inexpensively,” Trump told reporters in March following his decision months earlier to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US embassy there. “They put an order in front of my desk last week for $1 billion. … We’re actually doing it for about $250,000, so check that out.”

Trump repeated that and similar claims numerous times, eventually raising the price to $400,000 during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

View of the US Consulate in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, Israel, before becoming the embassy, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the Maryland-based firm Desbuild Limak D&K was awarded a $21.2 million contract to design and build “compound security upgrades” to the embassy, according to documents made public in July and first reported by Al-Monitor.

The Trump administration has not announced when it plans to begin construction on a permanent embassy.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The opening of the embassy in Jerusalem provoked deadly riots in Gaza and the West Bank.

At least 63 Palestinians were killed on the Gaza border on the day the embassy was opened, making it the most bloody day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 war. At least 50 of them were Hamas members, the terror group has acknowledged.

The protests at Israel’s border peaked on May 14, when some 40,000 Gazans protested and rioted along the fence and violent clashes took place between troops and Palestinians.

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