President Trump announced on Wednesday that the United States formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that it intends to relocate the US embassy. UU In Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision has numerous important symbolic implications for the peace process in the Middle East.
But in a city where land rights are often controversial, moving the embassy to Jerusalem is also a practical problem: where exactly would this new embassy go? Trump, a real estate mogul turned world leader, will soon discover that finding a location for a new embassy is not an easy task. Although the White House has suggested that the embassy could be moved within three or four years, some think that this deadline is not realistic.
"That's a very optimistic estimate," said Daniel Shapiro, who served as the United States ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama.
Shapiro, who is now principal investigator of the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and has advocated the relocation of the US Embassy. UU In Israel under certain circumstances, he said he suspects that the measure would take five to 10 years.
In theory, there is land in Jerusalem reserved for a new US Embassy. UU On the last day of President Ronald Reagan in office in 1989, then-USA. Ambassador to Israel, William Brown, signed a contract for a plot of land in western Jerusalem for $ 1 a year with a 99-year lease. This space was then zoned for "diplomatic purposes" by the Israeli government with the intention of building a US embassy there.
Today, this land is located in an increasingly desirable part of Jerusalem on the edge of the Talpiot neighborhood by Baka. "It's a big area," said David Makovsky, a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and adviser to Secretary of State John F. Kerry on the Middle East peace process. "Many apartment buildings have been built waiting for a US Embassy."
The assigned land remains uninhabited and abandoned. A reporter for the Times of Israel described seeing "pieces of an old shoe, broken bottles of Heineken, the rusty springs of an old mattress that someone forgot here years ago," when he visited last year. And despite the decision of the Trump administration to move the embassy, it is unlikely that this country will see a better future.
Although initially it was expected during the 1990s that a US embassy could sit here, following the al-Qaeda attacks against the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, new security regulations were established that required embassies they will be located 100 feet away from any adjacent road due to the risk of car bombs and other attacks. "With the new rules, that land is not big enough," Shapiro said. By context, the space in Talpiot is seven to 14 acres, according to different sources, while the new US embassy. UU In Lebanon it occupies 43 acres.
There is another potential option: The United States could use a building it already has in Jerusalem. The Department of State operates a series of consular buildings in Jerusalem that provide services to the city, as well as to the Palestinian territories and that could theoretically be reused as an embassy. The oldest is the Consulate General of the United States, built in 1912, located at 18 Agron Rd., Near the Old City of Jerusalem.
Another more recent installation of the Consular Section of the USA. UU It's in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, not far from Talpiot. Unlike the Agron Road building and the Talpiot land, which lie within the "green line" that designates the parts of Jerusalem that were under Israeli control prior to the 1967 war, the Arnona facility encompasses the 1967 border between Israeli control and what was then a demilitarized zone after the armistice agreement of 1949.
It has been widely speculated that, instead of building a completely new facility to serve as a US Embassy. UU in Israel in Jerusalem, the State Department would appropriate one of the buildings of the consulate, an easier and faster way. option in several ways. Most speculation has focused on Arnona's newest building, which is considerably larger than the Consulate General building on Agron Road and could accommodate more employees if the embassy moves from Tel Aviv.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last year that Jerusalem Officials indicated that the building was specifically designed to someday be an embassy.
Although a State Department spokeswoman declined to say how many people worked at the Arnona compound, reports from the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department said there were 582 employees of the US consulate. UU They spread through Jerusalem in 2017, compared to the 960 employees of the US embassy. UU In Tel Aviv.
Shapiro said it was possible to move the ambassador to a consulate, although it would probably only be temporary while a new embassy is built, and would require the flexing of such rules. However, he added that the language used by the Trump administration suggested that such a move was unlikely. Makovsky said the White House had told him on Tuesday that the United States ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, would not move to a consulate.
Instead, Makovsky said, the White House told him he was looking to buy plots of land. Exactly where it has not been confirmed, and it is not clear if one could buy land adjacent to a consulate or near the land of Talpiot. "I do not know how many plots are in that place of choice," Makovsky said of Talpiot. "I wonder if they will have to go look in areas they had not seen before."
The State Department did not respond to a query on Talpiot's land or the time frame of the move, but in comments to reporters on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to concede that the move would not be easy and that the process of finding a new plot would begin immediately. "Obviously, there's a lot of planning going in," Tillerson told reporters at a US air base. UU In Ramstein, Germany. "It's going to take some time."
In the end, it is possible that any new US Embassy. UU In Jerusalem I can end up a little closer to Tel Aviv than many would expect. "I'm sure the Israeli government will work hard to find a new property" for a new US embassy. UU., Shapiro said. However, he added, "real estate in Jerusalem is complicated, it is a compressed city, it is possible that the embassy ends some distance from the center of the city."
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