ADDS REACTION FROM PALESTINIAN OFFICIALS
By Safvan Allahverdi
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14th -- the day the state of Israel was established and officially recognized by Washington in 1948.
"We are planning to open the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. The Embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Friday in a written statement.
She said the embassy will initially be located in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, adding the existing U.S. consular facility there for issuing visas and for other diplomatic matters will be temporarily turned into an embassy.
The U.S. move, which will dispatch its ambassador to Israel and staff to Jerusalem, came after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson approved the final security plan for the relocation late Thursday, even though Vice President Mike Pence said earlier it would occur by the end of 2019.
The current embassy complex in Tel Aviv will still be in service as the U.S. consulate and will become a branch of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
"In parallel, we have started the search for a site for our permanent Embassy to Israel, the planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking," Nauert said.
"We are excited about taking this historic step and look forward with anticipation to the May opening."
The relocation plan was the United States’ first priority after President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December last year, which drew a storm of condemnation and protests across the Arab and Muslim world.
According to U.S. media reports, the U.S. ambassador to Israel has received many offers from Jewish donors who say they are willing to fund the new building for the project.
Trump has also considered accepting donations from well-known casino owner and business magnate Sheldon Adelson, who comes from a Jewish family, to help fund the project.
Additionally, according to the reports, the reason behind the donations for the embassy is to make it more difficult to reverse Trump's decision to move the embassy in the future.
According to Palestine’s official WAFA news agency, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, decried the decision.
“This is an unacceptable step. Unilateral steps will not give legitimacy to anyone and will hinder efforts to provide peace in the region.”
Saib Ureykat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said President Trump and his team were no longer part of the Israel-Palestine solution and had become part of the problem.
Palestinian resistance group Hamas’ spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanoua also criticized the decision, saying it would not legitimize the actions of occupier Israel and change the historical status and identity of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem -- now occupied by Israel -- might eventually serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.