Work includes escape road from compound and security wall

Planning body waives building permit for US embassy Jerusalem construction work

‘We won’t let unnecessary bureaucracy delay the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem,’ finance minister pledges

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)

Israel’s top zoning and planning body on Tuesday approved new construction work at the US Consulate in Jerusalem ahead of its planned transformation into the American embassy in time for Israel’s 70th independence day, on May 14.

The National Council for Planning and Construction backed Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s bid to allow State Department officials to build new security infrastructure at the site without having to go through the time-consuming process of applying for rezoning and construction permits.

In a statement, the Finance Ministry said Kahlon, the country’s top planning official, would sign an official zoning and permit waiver for the new embassy within days.

“As we promised, we won’t let unnecessary bureaucracy delay the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital,” he said in a statement.

“This is a strategic diplomatic move for the State of Israel,” Kahlon added. “The planning bodies under my purview will do everything required to meet the necessary deadlines. As finance minister of the State of Israel, I want to again express my gratitude for the privilege of taking part in this historic move.”

The construction work will reportedly include paving an escape road from the compound — every US embassy has one, in case the ambassador needs to be evacuated — and building a three-meter (10-foot) high security wall around the site. The site’s current zoning status does not allow for such changes.

In its own statement, the national council said the government had explained the “urgency and importance to the nation of completing the required security arrangements by the date of the American embassy’s move to Jerusalem, as ordered by the American president. In light of the need to meet the security requirements of a compound that will house an ambassador, and since the changes must be completed by the moving date, the council has decided to recommend issuing the waiver.”

The waiver is valid for three years, after which all construction work must receive approval through the regular channels.

According to reports, the US will initially retrofit a small suite of offices in the consulate facility to accommodate Ambassador David Friedman and key aides, while Friedman will still also maintain an office at the current embassy in Tel Aviv, which would thenceforth 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.

Trump’s December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowing to move the embassy there has sparked an unprecedented falling out between Washington and the Palestinian Authority. The US president has indicated he may come to Israel in May for the inauguration of the new embassy.

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