US Jerusalem embassy opening starts long process

US Embassy in Jerusalem  photo: Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

50 embassy staff will initially transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a move that for the present is largely symbolic.

On September 12, 1966, the US Embassy building at 71 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv was inaugurated. The US ambassador, Walworth "Wally" Barbour, was already a veteran, having been stationed in Israel for five years. He remained in Israel and in Tel Aviv until 1973, a few months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. During that time, the US maintained its longstanding consulate in Jerusalem, while the center of events was in Tel Aviv. Wally was well liked by Israel's leadership.

52 years on, last Friday morning, US ambassador David Friedman stood in the grey, massive building on the Tel Aviv seafront, and raised a toast together with the embassy's American and Israeli employees. In the afternoon, Friedman gave a telephone briefing to journalists. "I’m speaking to you now from Tel Aviv. We just had a little toast where we all got together and toasted our last day as Embassy Tel Aviv. On Monday, people will be coming back to work as the embassy branch of the Jerusalem embassy," Friedman said.

Staff at the US Embassy in Israel have been working round the clock to organize the move, even though it is only preliminary and symbolic, within the short timetable of five months.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood will at first be a symbolic presence. The ambassador's bureau, his personal staff, will enable him to conduct meetings there. But the Americans, Friedman chief among them, have explained that today's transfer and ceremony are the beginning of a process that will take several years. 50 people will switch to working at the embassy in Arnona, where in recent years a consular section operated, providing service to Jerusalem residents. The US continues as before to use the historic building in Agron Street where US consuls lived and where visa and other services were provided from 1844 until 2003 when the consular section in Arnona was opened.

The transfer to Jerusalem will be fully completed only when the US Embassy has a permanent building. That will take several years, first of all to find the land and then to build a suitable building.

The 50 employees at the new embassy are a small fraction of the approximately 1,000 people who man the various parts of the US Embassy in Israel. Most of them are based at the building at 71 Hayarkon Street, but for decades the press department, the public diplomacy department, and other departments, have been based at 1 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv. The US maintains a large number of economic and agricultural attaches in Israel. The regional head of the agricultural department operates out of the US Embassy in Cairo.

Ambassador Friedman said in his telephone briefing that as far as he was concerned, the main importance of the opening of the Jerusalem embassy today would be that he would have offices there. Up to now, when he held meetings in Jerusalem, he had to hire a room at the King David Hotel. He will now be able to host American VIPs, administration officials and foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel in his bureau in Arnona.

The US ambassador's residence will for the time being remain in Herzliya Pituah. "Long term, there’s no question that we need to find a chief of mission residence in Jerusalem. I think that’s something we’re going to - that’s on the list of things to do in terms of the overall transition of the embassy, but when we do that, that would be great. My apartment in Jerusalem, I’ve been told, is not an eligible opportunity, so it won’t be that, but it’s something we’re still working on," Friedman said in response to a question about where the ambassadorial residence would be.

The ambassador's residence in Herzliya Pituah has been the venue for American festive occasions for many years. The previous ambassador, Dan Shapiro, held many events on the broad lawns of the residence for various Israeli communities, including the traditional fourth of July celebration. In July 2018, the official celebration will be held at the Avenue Events and Convention Center near Ben Gurion Airport. In the coming years, will all official US celebrations move to Jerusalem and will the Herzliya tradition come to an end? Presumably so. The expansive house in Herzliya, with one of the most impressive vistas in Israel, is likely to become an empty and run-down property within a few years.

Four EU countries break the taboo

Yesterday evening, a celebration toast was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. The ambassadors of 33 countries in Israel confirmed participation. Many African countries sent their ambassadors, as did the Czech Republic, Austria, Georgia, Hungary, Thailand, Guatemala, Paraguay, and even Tanzania, which a week ago reopened its embassy in Israel (in Tel Aviv) after decades of a diplomatic rift.

Worthy of note are the European Union countries - the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Romania, taking part in the celebrations, in contrast to the more prominent members of the EU - Germany, France, the UK - which are shunning the events surrounding the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and continue to oppose the move. The divide between the US and Europe over the Palestinian and Iranian questions remains to a large extent a divide between Washington on the one hand and London, Paris and Berlin on the other.

Besides the US, other countries are due to move their embassies to Jerusalem in the near future. The Guatemalan Embassy will move there on Wednesday, and the next in line are Paraguay and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is waiting for Romania's decision on the matter. The speaker of the Romanian parliament is in favor of moving the country's embassy but the president is against it, and the matter has become the subject of an internal political wrangle. The next countries that Israel hopes will join the move are Honduras and Georgia.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 14, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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US Embassy in Jerusalem  photo: Ronen Zvulun, Reuters
US Embassy in Jerusalem photo: Ronen Zvulun, Reuters
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