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U.S. Will Move Embassy to Jerusalem in May, Marking Israel’s 70th Birthday

“You know, every president campaigned on, ‘We’re going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ everybody, for many presidents, you’ve been reading it, and then they never pulled it off, and I now know why,” Mr. Trump said. “I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I said, ‘We have to do it, it’s the right thing to do.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment. But a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition welcomed the plan to go ahead with an embassy move. “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US @POTUS on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel’s 70th Independence Day,” Israel Katz, the minister of transportation and intelligence, wrote on Twitter. “There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!”

Furious over Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and its intention to move the embassy, Palestinian leaders have declared that they will no longer accept an American monopoly on brokering a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.

The timing of the embassy move may only amplify Palestinian outrage. For the Palestinians, Israel’s 70th anniversary also marks 70 years of the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes and became refugees during the hostilities leading up to, and the war surrounding, Israel’s creation in 1948.

“The decision of the U.S. administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to choose the anniversary of the Nakba of the Palestinian people for carrying out this step expresses a flagrant violation of the law,” Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the veteran Palestinian chief negotiator, said in a statement on Friday.

The choice of date, he added, would “provoke the feelings of all Arabs and Muslims.”

American officials on Friday did not comment on why they decided to move up the date for the opening, but it will carry special emotional resonance in Israel coming on its Independence Day on May 14, the anniversary of the state’s founding in 1948.

President Harry S. Truman recognized Israel minutes after it declared independence, making the United States the first country to do so.

A new embassy building will take six to eight years to construct, said a State Department official, who like others demanded anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the issue.

The Arnona building, where visas and passports are processed, is not nearly big enough for the embassy’s entire staff. Only the ambassador, a chief of staff and a staff secretary will be situated there in its first years of operation, the official said. Much of the rest of the embassy personnel will remain for now in Tel Aviv.

Israel has always made Jerusalem its capital but the Palestinians have also claimed the city as the capital of a future state. Until Mr. Trump’s decision last year, no other country located its embassy in Jerusalem to avoid seeming to take sides in the dispute.

Most American peace negotiators have assumed that Jerusalem would ultimately serve as capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state in an eventual agreement, but advised against preemptively declaring it the Israeli capital before negotiations are finalized.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is in preliminary discussions with Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate, Republican donor and prominent Israel backer, for a donation to potentially pay for at least some of the cost of constructing a new embassy complex, the State Department official said. The Associated Press reported that State Department lawyers are looking into the legality of such a move.

Mr. Adelson declined to comment on Friday through a representative.

Video

Sheldon Adelson’s Influence on Trump’s Israel Policy

When President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, one man who was probably smiling was the Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Here’s a look at how he became influential within the Trump administration.

Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

But one of his confidants said that Mr. Adelson “was very excited” when Mr. Trump told the casino magnate after his election victory that he would move the embassy.

The confidant, Morton A. Klein, said Mr. Adelson “called me as soon as he walked out of Trump Tower, and got into his car to say that President Trump said that he is going to fulfill his promise to move the embassy.”

“It is a critically important issue to Sheldon Adelson,” said Mr. Klein, who runs a nonprofit group called the Zionist Organization of America that is funded partly by Mr. Adelson.

Mr. Klein, though, said he opposes private funding for the embassy.

“I’m concerned that people will think that this is being done because of a group of people — evangelicals and Jews — who care about it and not because it’s the U.S. government that cares about it,” said Mr. Klein. “It should be crystal-clear that this is the U.S. government making the decision to move it.”

Source: NYT > World

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