US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
The video showed constructions workers setting up scaffolding and busy installing the huge seal. Friedman said the ceremony on Monday would be a “beautiful, inspirational event.”
“This year, thanks to the US administration, the courage, the vision of President Donald Trump we can say ‘this year in Jerusalem,'” he said, referencing the Passover wish of “next year in Jerusalem.”
Trump on Friday hailed the “big week” of the impending move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Big week next week when the American Embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem. Congratulations to all!” Trump tweeted.
Big week next week when the American Embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2018
Trump will deliver a video address for the opening of the new embassy, senior administration officials told reporters Friday morning.
Among the administration members attending are John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump.
The new US embassy will open with an initial staff of at least 50, according to senior Trump administration officials previewing the highly anticipated opening on May 14.
Roughly 800 guests will attend. Officials say the US delegation doesn’t plan to meet any Palestinian officials during their visit.
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.
Friedman is expected to split his time between the new embassy in Jerusalem and his offices in Tel Aviv.
Friedman asserted Friday morning that relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem advances America’s interests and was not part of any “give and take” with Israel.
“It was an American interest to open the embassy,” he said. “The Israelis were obviously desirous of this and they requested this — they’re very happy by it — but the decision was made because it seemed to be in the best interests of the United States [and] it was something the president promised during the campaign. There was no give and take with Israel in regards to this decision.”
On December 6, Trump announced that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem. Israel has expressed hopes that other countries will follow suit, though the move was widely condemned in the international community. So far Guatemala and Paraguay have announced they will emulate the US.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fiercely criticized Trump’s decision. Since then, PA officials have refused to meet with members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Pence when he visited the region earlier this year.
Palestinians have been planning widespread protests against the move. There have also been demonstrations across the Arab and Muslim world.
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 at a Thursday night rally 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.