US Ambassador Will Not Work Full Time in New Jerusalem Embassy


WASHINGTON — The United States Embassy in Jerusalem is set to open with great fanfare on Monday, but the American ambassador to Israel will not yet work permanently out of his new office there, administration officials said Friday, and instead will split his time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

That solution might be practical, given that there is little spare space in the Jerusalem building, and most of the embassy staff will be remaining in the Tel Aviv branch of the embassy for the time being. But it may also help get around any diplomatic awkwardness, allowing the ambassador, David M. Friedman, to continue to host officials whose countries oppose the American embassy move.

President Trump, who fulfilled a campaign promise by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year, will not attend the opening but will address the event by video. The embassy move goes against an international consensus that it prejudges the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the future status of the contested city.

The planned opening comes at a time when Israel and Iran have launched attacks against each other as Iran maintains a foothold in Syria. Iran fired rockets at Israel shortly after Mr. Trump announced on Tuesday that the United States would pull out of the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Critics have said the American embassy move will isolate Israel in the region. But the Trump administration disputes that, pointing to comments on Thursday from the foreign minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, who tweeted in support of Israel and said it had the right to defend itself against Iranian aggression.

The embassy that is opening on Monday, in what was up to now the consular services section of the United States Consulate General, will be temporary. The United States is searching for a permanent site, a process that is expected to take years.

The embassy compound is partly located in a section of Jerusalem known as No Man’s Land. The area consists of land divided in an armistice agreement between Jordan and Israel at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and boundary lines were drawn in grease pencil. Most of the world views it as occupied territory.

As of Friday, American flags were hanging along the streets leading to the quiet neighborhood of Arnona in south Jerusalem that is home to the fortresslike compound housing the new embassy. Earlier this week, road signs pointing the way to the embassy in the neighborhood were changed from “U.S. Consulate” to “U.S. Embassy,” printed in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Employees in the Tel Aviv embassy had a toast Friday to mark the last day for those who will return to work at the new location on Monday, a senior administration official said. Between 50 and 60 officials will be working at the embassy on Monday, including the consular officials, the official said.

In moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mr. Trump reversed decades of America’s approach to the Holy City, one of the world’s most contested pieces of land. Congress passed a law in the 1990s requiring that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, and other presidents had promised to do so, only to exercise a waiver in the law permitting them to hold off, for fear that it would set off a backlash and complicate peace negotiations.

Not only did Mr. Trump break from that by declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, but he has also abandoned America’s commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict that would involve the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a position that had been a bedrock of American policy for years. Mr. Trump has said he would be fine with a one-state solution if the two sides agreed, a position that has emboldened Israeli opponents of a Palestinian nation who have declared the death of the two-state solution.

Mr. Trump has promised to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, assigning the task to top advisers led by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law. But even though White House officials have said their plan is nearly complete, they have yet to release it, and neither side in the region appears prepared to compromise. The Palestinians, citing the embassy move, have cut off high-level contacts with the Trump administration, saying it cannot be a neutral mediator.

The embassy is partly in predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem and partly in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Palestinians have long hoped that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Home to the third-holiest mosque in Islam as well as the holiest site in Judaism, the city poses highly sensitive issues for Muslims and Jews. The city is also sacred to Christians.

The State Department has not taken a clear position on the contested land in the embassy compound, but recognizes that Israel and Jordan had informally divided it and that it has been in continuous Israeli use since 1949.

Scheduled to attend the official opening are some members of Congress and a delegation led by John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state; Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; and some of the president’s advisers, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Mr. Kushner.

Eileen Sullivan reported from Washington, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington.



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