US to open Jerusalem embassy in May, marking Israel's 70th anniversary
AP Photo/Eitan Hess-Ashkenazi, File
The United States will relocate its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, coinciding with Israel's celebration of the 70th anniversary of its independence, US officials announced Friday.
"In May, the United States plans to open a new US embassy in Jerusalem. The opening will coincide with Israel's 70th anniversary," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement.
Until now, the US embassy has been located in Tel Aviv with a separate consulate general located in Jerusalem that represents US interests in the Palestinian territories.
The new embassy will be initially located in a US consular building in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood while Washington searches for a permanent location, "the planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking," Nauert said.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the news as historic and a great day for Israel, thanking his American counterpart, stating: "It will turn Israel's 70th Independence Day into an even greater national celebration."
"Thank you, President Trump, for your leadership and your friendship," he added.
While Trump has publicly maintained that the move would likely not happen within the year, contradictory reports have surfaced in recent months stating that it would take place before 2019.
The choice of the date, a year earlier than originally forecast, is likely to further cloud efforts to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, putting in greater doubt the traditional US role as an "honest broker."
Palestinian spokesperson and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed the move for May 14, a day marked by Palestinians as Nakba Day or "Day of Catastrophe," calling it a "provocation."
"The fact that the US administration chose Nakba Day to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a provocation to all Arabs and Muslims and we condemn it most forcefully," he said in a statement released Friday evening.
"The US administration can no longer function as a sponsor to the peace process and with this decision has become part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution."
Tensions between Israel, the US and the Palestinians have inflamed since Trump's December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announcement that the US embassy would be moved to the contested ancient city, breaking with decades of US policy.
The status of Jerusalem is among the most contentious in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem, instead keeping them in the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv.
The move sparked a new wave of unrest between Israel and the Palestinians, and called into question the US role in future peace talks.
However, Israelis and Netanyahu supporters have applauded decisions made by the Trump administration.
Israeli intelligence minister Israel Katz was quick to welcome the opening date.
"I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel's 70th Independence Day," he wrote in English on his Twitter account.
"There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!"
US President Donald Trump in December broke with decades of policy in Washington by officially recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledging to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.
Earlier Friday, US billionaire and longtime Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson offered to subsidize the cost of building the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
The plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been quietly underway. After weeks of delays, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off Thursday on a security plan for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, according to the officials.
AFP contributed to this report
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Interestingly, Arabs didn’t call themselves ‘Palestinians’ until the 1960s. Before that it was a reference to and a racial slur hurled at Jews.