Netanyahu’s US Embassy packages are unusable

On the day President Donald Trump faced his second impeachment, he received a gift from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: a plot of land from Jerusalem.

The problem? It’s an imaginary package.

Even running for re-election and being tried for corruption, not to mention battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, Netanyahu has found some free time to comfort Trump, his closest international ally, and perhaps anger new President Joe Biden a week before Inauguration Day. In an unusual and unexplained session on January 13, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Commission rushed to approve plans for a US embassy in Jerusalem. In fact, he has approved two embassy complexes.

But neither seems tethered to reality.

The planning commission, scheduled with 24 hours notice and which – unusually – met behind closed doors, approved the expansion of a complex currently housing the US Embassy, ​​which President Trump controversially moved from Tel Aviv in 2018.

The tiny campus, located in West Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, isn’t big enough to hold the staff of nearly 1,000 diplomats and civil servants, who continue to work in a massive fortress-like building in Tel Aviv. .

A panorama of Jerusalem taken from a hill above the Allenby site approved for the US Embassy.

A panorama of Jerusalem taken from a hill above the Allenby site approved for the US Embassy. By Noga Tarnopolsky

Separately, the Jerusalem commission approved the construction of a nearby 64,5834-square-foot structure on a site known as the Allenby Compound, which sits on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

It’s unclear at whose behest Netanyahu acted — or whether his office worked unilaterally to pressure Jerusalem officials into approving the decision.

Netanyahu’s office declined to answer multiple questions.

US officials appeared unaware of the decision, but their Israeli counterparts celebrated the zoning clearance as a boon for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, a Netanyahu ally who last month planned a revolutionary embassy “within six months,” hailed what he called “a historic and exciting moment.”

Speaking as an optimistic urban planner, Leon said the new site, located on the busy Hebron road, would be “built on the axis of the light rail and increase the development of the city for its inhabitants”, and declared his belief that other countries would follow. the American example.

In fact, the State Department has already ruled out this location, has not yet tendered the embassy design, and has not included a new embassy in its budget. Plus, the Leon Light Rail trumpets are at least a decade away from the real thing.

A sign near the roundabout near the current US Embassy in Jerusalem.

A sign near the roundabout near the current US Embassy in Jerusalem. By Noga Tarnopolsky

Leased by the United States on President Ronald Reagan’s last day in office, the stretch of Hebron Road is on one of Jerusalem’s busiest avenues and does not meet Department of Defense safety standards. state established after al-Qaeda bombed US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

“With the new rules, this pitch is not big enough”, former ambassador Dan Shapiro told the Washington Post in 2017.

“It’s all the Netanyahu-choreographed theater that puts one more finger in Biden’s eye,” said Jerusalem lawyer and activist Daniel Seidemann.

When the contradiction was brought to the attention of Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem for Netanyahu’s Likud party, she replied, incorrectly, on Twitter:We’ve dealt with all their security concerns it’s done hallelujah.”

Not so. A State Department spokesperson told The Forward “no final decision has been made regarding the path forward for the expansion or renovation of embassy facilities.”

“We continue to assess how diplomatic facilities can best support mission operations in Jerusalem,” the department spokesperson said. “This analysis is informed by discussions and routine reviews with local planning authorities.”

A source familiar with the activities of the US embassy in Israel said he knew “nothing” about it.

This is not the first time that Netanyahu has promised Trump part of the Land of Israel but has not followed through. On June 14, Trump’s birthday, the Israeli government authorized the establishment of Ramat Trump (Trump Heights), a future city serving as a thank-you note for Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The site remains uninhabited, with no building plans in place. So this parting gift of zoning the Jerusalem embassy seems more likely to benefit Netanyahu’s re-election campaign than America or Trump.

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