The Trump administration is moving faster than expected to transfer the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by 2019, senior officials said Thursday, despite insisting last month that the move would not happen until the end of President Trump’s term.
The administration’s plans, following Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, suggest it no longer cares about cushioning the blow of the new policy, which has drawn angry protests from Palestinians and other Arabs and cast Mr. Trump’s peacemaking ambitions into doubt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel first broached the prospect of a faster move on Wednesday, telling reporters that the embassy would be moved “in the course of the year.” That put him at odds with Mr. Trump, who hours later said, “We’re not really looking at that.”
It was not clear whether Mr. Trump’s advisers had briefed him on the new timetable until Thursday. Officials said he was referring to the construction of an entirely new embassy compound in Jerusalem, which Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson predicted would be completed “probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.”
But the State Department has since settled on a more modest plan to convert an existing consular building in Arnona, a neighborhood in West Jerusalem. That will reduce the cost of the project and allow
The timing of the move has caused tensions between Mr. Tillerson and the White House. Mr. Friedman, who worked as a lawyer for Mr. Trump, pushed to move the embassy this year, and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who oversees the president’s Middle East peace initiative, backed him.
But Mr. Tillerson petitioned Mr. Trump in a meeting on Thursday for more time to upgrade the security of the building, and the president agreed. “What you’ll see from the secretary is that we will do this at the pace of security, not at the pace of politics,” said the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, Steven Goldstein.
The Arnona building sits near the Green Line, which served as the de facto border of the state of Israel from 1949 until the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. While the building, which now issues visas and offers consular services to American citizens, would need to be retrofitted for the ambassador to conduct classified operations, it is a fairly new structure with better physical security than the embassy in Tel Aviv.
The timetable for moving the embassy became a charged footnote to Mr. Trump’s landmark decision. When the president signed a proclamation in December recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, he quietly signed another document waiving a congressional demand that the United States move the embassy to Jerusalem within six months.