Security, road closures and speechmaking: The US embassy moves to Jerusalem

Details of Monday’s celebratory and contentious ceremony officially relocating the US mission to Israel’s capital

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

A new road sign indicating the way to the new US embassy in Jerusalem is seen on May 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
A new road sign indicating the way to the new US embassy in Jerusalem is seen on May 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Over 22 years after the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling to move the US mission from Tel Aviv, America on Monday will turn its Jerusalem consulate into its official embassy, fulfilling a campaign promise made by US President Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

Delighting the Israeli government, but angering Palestinians who claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state, Trump announced on December 6, 2017, that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

On Monday afternoon, five months later, the move was set to take place with a celebratory ceremony in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, amid the threat of Palestinian unrest both in the capital and in the West Bank and Gaza.

While the White House has touted the ceremony as a “historic event” and Israel has been feverishly preparing for the celebration, specific plans for the unveiling, as well as for the embassy itself, have remained under wraps.

Here are the currently available details about the ceremony itself, Israeli preparations and the future of the Arnona site:

Security and traffic arrangements

Around 1,000 police officers will be positioned around the embassy and surrounding neighborhoods for the inauguration, said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

He said the officers will secure the perimeter of the US embassy during the Monday opening, assist in securing the visiting American officials, and help direct traffic.

Israeli police over the weekend said that security had been bolstered throughout Jerusalem in preparation for a politically tense week that will see over a month of Palestinian protests culminate with the US embassy move.

Roads in the area will be closed off from Monday morning until after the ceremony ends. Traffic disruptions were expected in the capital as delegations arrive.

Workers prepare the stage for the official opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition, the US has dispatched Marines to bolster security at US diplomatic facilities around the Middle East.

The deployment of Marines comes because of fears of disturbances related to the opening of the embassy. For weeks, thousands of Gazans have been protesting at the border with Israel, encouraged by Hamas, the terror group that rules the Strip, whose leaders have vowed to ratchet up protests to coincide with the embassy opening.

The Israeli army is also deploying three additional brigades to Gaza and the West Bank.

Presidential delegation, minus the president

Over the last several weeks, Trump had been toying with flying to Israel for the second time in his presidency to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, much to the surprise of Israeli officials who were unprepared for a potential presidential visit.

But last week, the White House released its official delegation list, which did not include the president. Among the administration members attending are US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump.

US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, center right, and Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, center left, at a welcome ceremony for the US Embassy at the Foreign Ministry, ahead of the official opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In total, roughly 800 guests will attend the opening ceremony with the guest list made up primarily of US and Israeli officials and dignitaries.

“These include religious and business leaders, journalists, academics, and government representatives from the United States. We have also invited several Israeli government representatives and political leaders to attend,” a US embassy official told The Times of Israel last week.

The group is also expected to include Jewish leaders and heads of pro-Israel Christian organizations. Famed pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz and Yeshiva University President Ari Berman will attend, as will casino mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and Pastor John Hagee, whose Christians United For Israel group counts more than four million members.

The American delegation will include some 40 Republican lawmakers, including Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, but notably no Democrats.

American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends a meeting of the lobby for Israel–United States relations at the Knesset, July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also absent will be any ambassadors from other countries, with the White House possibly choosing not to invite foreign representatives for fear of being turned down. European countries have slammed Trump’s move to relocate the embassy as being outside international consensus, saying the city’s status should be determined as part of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Guatemalan President Horacio Cartes and Foreign Minister Carlos Raúl Morales, however, will attend, with their country also planning to move its embassy to Jerusalem two days later.

The heads of Knesset parties from the coalition and opposition will be attending, with the exception of Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh, the only one not to be invited, and Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg, who turned down the invitation.

Blessings, speeches and a presidential video link

Monday’s ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. Israel time and is expected to last around 90 minutes.

The ceremony will be hosted by US Ambassador David Friedman, who will act as an emcee of sorts and preside over the unveiling of the plaque officially denoting the building as the US embassy, which will be done by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.

With Trump not attending, he will instead address the ceremony via a video link from Washington, which will be projected onto a huge screen at the open air venue.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as US Vice President looks on, at the White House, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

From the US delegation, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan and Trump adviser Kushner are scheduled to speak while Evanglical pastors Hagee and Robert Jeffress will deliver “blessings” for the new embassy.

Jeffress, a Southern Baptist who vigorously supported Trump during the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign and was a member of his evangelical advisory board, has been criticized as a choice for the event given past comments he has made suggesting Jews cannot be “saved.”

The speeches and benedictions will be interspersed with songs performed by a number of well-known Israeli singers.

In addition to the US speakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin will also address the event.

On Sunday, Rivlin hailed Trump for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, saying the move would prompt other countries to shed their reluctance on moving their embassies to the city.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the welcome ceremony at Foreign Ministry, ahead of the official opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Following [the US] the embassies of other countries will also move to our capital Jerusalem. The diplomatic blockade has been broken and will be broken,” he said at the official event at Ammunition Hill marking Jerusalem Day.

At a Foreign Ministry reception earlier celebrating the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Trump was making history by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called on world leaders to follow Washington’s lead and bring their missions to the Israeli capital.

Thanking the US delegation in Jerusalem for the embassy opening, set for the following day, Netanyahu said, “There are no greater supporters of Israel on the face of the earth.”

Limited embassy staff, to begin with

Following the ceremony, the new US embassy will open with an initial staff of at least 50.

Initial embassy staff will include Friedman’s aides and US consular officers already working at the site. The embassy is opening in part of a pre-existing American visa-and-passport facility with a fraction of the total US personnel in Israel.

A new road sign directing motorists to the US consulate in Jerusalem that will be inaugurated as the US Embassy, on May 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Friedman is expected to split his time between the new embassy in Jerusalem and his offices in Tel Aviv.

Initially, the opening of a new Jerusalem embassy was expected to take up to three years. In February, the Trump administration said it would expedite the process by converting an existing US compound in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona.

Trump said last week that he rejected initial plans by staff for an entirely new embassy in Jerusalem that would have cost $1 billion and taken up to 10 years to build.

Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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