The Trump administration hopes to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by 2019, a much faster timeline than expected, according to several media reports.
Rather than building an entirely new structure in the city, plans have reportedly shifted in recent days, and the U.S. State Department now plans to retrofit a building the government already owns in West Jerusalem.
“We will not be moving to a new facility ... we are going to retrofit a building,” Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for diplomacy and public affairs, told The Wall Street Journal. He said the building would be ready sometime next year.
The New York Times corroborated the report, and said the retrofit would help keep costs down and allow the move to happen quickly, rather than on a multiyear timeline that would have seen embassy staff move sometime after 2020.
Trump officially declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel in December and directed the State Department to move the embassy there from Tel Aviv. Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the decision sparked massive protests around the globe and marked a controversial shift in U.S. policy that threatened to stall the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Rhetoric coming from the White House about the timeline of the embassy’s move has been muddled. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador would be relocated “in the course of the year,” but Trump said that same day he was “not really looking at that.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also noted last month that the move was “probably no earlier than three years out,” according to Reuters.
But the Times says the State Department, under the advice of David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, has settled on the retrofitting plan. In a meeting Thursday, Tillerson reportedly continued to push Trump for a lengthier timeline to upgrade security measures at the new embassy, although both agreed to use an existing building, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Thousands took to the streets and protested in front of U.S. embassies around the world following Trump’s initial decision, which also drew swift condemnation from Muslim leaders. A bloc of 128 members of the United Nations also denounced the move in December in a symbolic vote demanding that the U.S. rescind the declaration.