US President Donald Trump will not attend next week’s opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, the White House confirmed Monday.
Trump surprised Jerusalem late last month when he said he was considering attending the embassy’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 14. During a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the White House on April 27, Trump said he “may go” to the event.
However, the official announcement from the White House had Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan leading the delegation.
The other members of the presidential delegation are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is the most senior member of the group, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, along with Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
A number of Israeli dignitaries are also expected to attend the festive event in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood at the building currently housing the US consulate.
“We have invited around 800 guests,” a US Embassy official told The Times of Israel. “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. Given that the focus of the event is on US-Israeli relations, we did not extend an invitation to the foreign diplomatic corps.”
There were reports that some 40 US politicians were due to attend, including Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham.
On Monday, in preparation for the move, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv changed its Twitter handle to @usembassyjlm, announcing the change with a tweet.
— USEmbassyTelAviv (@usembassyjlm) May 7, 2018
Also on Monday, Jerusalem began putting up road signs pointing to the “US Embassy,” replacing signs for the consulate.
Mayor Nir Barkat personally put up street signs saying
“This is not a dream — it’s reality,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement released by his office. “I thank President Trump for making this historic moment come to fruition. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people — and the world is beginning to recognize this fact.”
Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the embassy relocation on December 6.
While the move was welcomed by Israel, the Palestinians have seen it as a provocation, and have said it effectively negates the possibility of the Trump administration serving as an honest broker in peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials have since refused to meet with anyone on Trump’s team.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has urged the international community to boycott the ceremony.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that the Foreign Ministry will host a reception for “guests” coming to Israel on the occasion of the embassy dedication.
The completed new embassy is expected to take several years to build. In the meantime, officials will work out of the converted consulate, which straddles the Green Line in southern Jerusalem.
The interim embassy will initially contain office space for Friedman and a small staff, a US official in Israel told The Times of Israel, last month.
“By the end of next year, we will complete the construction of additional office space in the Arnona compound that will provide the ambassador and his team with expanded interim capacity,” an official in the Tel Aviv embassy.
“Most embassy staff will continue to live and work in Tel Aviv during this period, until a new embassy is built in Jerusalem. We expect the process of site selection, design, planning and permitting, and construction of a permanent embassy to take additional years to complete,” the official added.
Friedman, who owns a home in Jerusalem, will “continue to divide his time between his official residence in Herzliya and a residence in Jerusalem during the initial phases of the embassy move, as this is a multi-year process,” the official said.