Residents of Jerusalem neighborhood petition High Court against US Embassy

Residents of Jerusalem neighborhood petition High Court against US Embassy

Arnona locals oppose environmental impact of new construction, but left-wing NGO leading fight says it would support move if parallel ‘US Embassy for Palestine’ built in ‘al-Quds’

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)

A group of residents whose homes overlook the American consulate in Jerusalem submitted a petition to the High Court on Sunday against plans to open the new US Embassy there on May 14.

Those living in the quiet Arnona neighborhood in south Jerusalem already have to put up with bright security lights around the compound and increased security patrols.

But thanks to the finance minister’s waiving last month of planning rules, the current fence around the compound that still allows residents to enjoy the sweeping views eastwards to the desert is to be replaced by a more than four meter (13 foot) high solid stone wall, according to a report by Hadashot television news.

Arnona resident Naomi Schachter stands before the American Consulate’s fence that will become a high stone wall, blocking the view eastwards. (Hadashot News screenshot)

Similarly, part of a hillside near the consulate is being dug up to make way for an escape road, in case the ambassador would need to be evacuated — another demand of US State Department security protocols.

The residents claim that the security measures will change the fabric of the neighborhood and say Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s decision to exempt the project from the usual planning rules was made illegally and improperly.

They are being joined by the left-wing NGO Ir Amim, whose interest is more political.

“Ir Amim would praise the opening of an American Embassy in Jerusalem if a parallel embassy would have opened in the capital of a Palestinian state in al-Quds [the Arabic name for Jerusalem],” Oshrat Maimon, a senior official with the group, told Hadashot.

“Today, we think it’s a destructive, strong-arming and unilateral step.”

Screenshot from a video clip of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon signing a planning waiver to enable the US to build new security infrastructure at the site of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, March 28, 2018.

In late March, Kahlon signed an official exemption from planning rules to allow US State Department officials to build new security infrastructure at the site, skip over the time-consuming process of applying for rezoning and construction permits, and ensure that the new compound could open on May 14 as planned.

The area’s zoning, prior to the exemption, would not have allowed for the wall or the escape road.

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 then 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 US Consulate in Arnona, Jerusalem. (Hadashot News screenshot) Eventually, a new purpose-built embassy will be planned and constructed.

The rest of the embassy staff will remain at first in America’s current facility in Tel Aviv. Over time, the facility in Arnona 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.

In December, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced that the US Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a move welcomed by Israel and criticized by the Palestinians and much of the international community.

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