The United States will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem in May, the State Department announced in a statement on Friday.
The controversial relocation will come much faster than initially expected, despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying in December that it would take years before the move was completed. The date is set to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring its independence on May 14.
The rapid timeline means the U.S. will not immediately build a new embassy in the city, which would take years of planning and require extensive security preparations. Instead, the State Department confirmed that consular offices in Jerusalem will be renovated and given the title of “embassy.”
Retrofitting existing diplomatic facilities is a cheaper option for the U.S., but there are currently no consulates that match the capacity of the current embassy in Tel Aviv. The cost of relocation is a concern for the White House, even to the point that it has reportedly considered taking donations from pro-Israel, billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.
Early this year, multiple media outlets reported that the State Department was looking at plans to convert a consular complex in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona into the new embassy. The Arnona location is a newer facility near the Green Line that marked Israel’s borders prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when Israel took over de facto control of the city.
The State Department’s announcement on Friday confirmed that the Arnona facility will be the temporary site of the embassy and contain office space for Ambassador David Friedman. Officials will continue to search for a permanent site elsewhere.
The expected embassy move is likely to further strain the already crippled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has further deteriorated under President Donald Trump’s administration. Both Palestinians and Israelis consider Jerusalem to be their capital, and most United Nations members hold that the city’s final status shouldn’t be decided until a peace agreement is reached.
Trump’s December decision to relocate the embassy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital defied decades of U.S. policy and ran contrary to the position of the vast majority of the international community. It also sparked days of Palestinian protests, rebukes from prominent allies and a U.N. General Assembly vote that denounced the U.S. action.
Palestinian officials also condemned Trump’s Israel policies and said after his announcement in December they would no longer recognize the U.S. as an honest broker in the peace process and instead will only agree to negotiations under international leadership.
For Trump, moving the embassy fulfilled a campaign promise that appealed to pro-Israel conservatives and evangelical voters. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also vowed to move the embassy during their campaigns for president, but both changed tack once in office when confronted with the political reality of the situation. Trump touted taking action on the issue as a mark of his administration’s success while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
“Every president campaigned on ‘we’re going to make Jerusalem the capital,’ and then they never pulled it off,” Trump said during his CPAC speech. “Every president really lied.”
Congress passed a law in 1995 that required the embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem, but since then each president has signed a waiver twice a year delaying the move for another six months. The current waiver deadline is in May.