Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week predicted the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be relocated to Jerusalem within a year, President Donald Trump countered that estimate. The New York Times now reports that the White House is indeed pushing full steam ahead with the embassy’s relocation.
According to the report, the plan is to convert the current U.S. consulate building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood into the official U.S. embassy. This move would reduce the costs of the project and allow embassy staff to move to the new building as early as 2019.
Speaking with Israeli reporters traveling with him in India on Jan. 17, Netanyahu said it was his “educated guess” that the American embassy move “will happen faster than we think. Within the span of a year.”
Asked about Netanyahu’s remark in an interview with Reuters, President Donald Trump said, “By the end of the year? We’re talking about different scenarios—I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis. We’re not really looking at that. That’s no.”
But The New York Times reported it was not clear whether Trump had been advised of the new timetable at the time of his comments. Administration officials said Trump had been referring to the construction of a new embassy, not about moving into an existing building.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that the move to a newly constructed embassy would probably occur “no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.” Administration officials have attributed the timeframe to the logistics of finding and securing a site as well as arranging the necessary housing for diplomats.
According to The New York Times, Tillerson’s comments led to tensions with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who pressed for the embassy to be relocated by the end of 2018. Tillerson encouraged Trump to postpone the move to allow for the building’s security system to be upgraded.
Planning and construction of a new embassy compound would take up to six years and cost the U.S. between $600 million and $1 billion, according to the State Department. But according to legal experts cited by The New York Times, there is nothing to prevent the U.S. from simply changing the consulate’s status to that of an embassy.