In a historic and significant diplomatic move the United States relocated its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday, recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
The transfer of the embassy seal to an existing consulate building in Jerusalem is mostly symbolic, however. Little on the ground actually changes for most employees and for citizens in need of embassy services.
About 50 embassy staff will initially transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem including Ambassador David Friedman who will have an office in the new embassy located in Arnona, Jerusalem.
Most employees in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will carry on with the same job they held before the transfer. This is important to Israeli citizens (including Jews, Arabs and Armenians) who are employed there or who need visa appointments and for American citizens in Israel who need to know where to get citizen services.
The former U.S. embassy building, a massive secure structure across from the Mediterranean Sea, was inaugurated on Sept. 12, 1966 in Tel Aviv. Most of the embassy’s 1,000 employees are located in the Tel Aviv building. On Friday, Friedman raised a toast with the former embassy’s American and Israeli staff.
“We just had a little toast where we all got together and toasted our last day as Embassy Tel Aviv,” he told journalists later. “On Monday, people will be coming back to work as the embassy branch of the Jerusalem embassy (in Tel Aviv).”
The move was organized in five months. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem on Dec. 6. Eventually it was decided to use the existing and relatively new building in Arnona rather than spend billions and wait years for a new structure. A new building is in the plans, but now the transfer of the embassy seal is not contingent upon its construction.
“We are extremely proud of the fact that we have been able to open the embassy, as the president likes to say, ahead of schedule and under budget,” Friedman said.
He said the transfer and ceremony on Monday were the beginning of a process that will take several years: A new building, more departments and eventually an official ambassador’s residence will be located in Jerusalem before the transition is considered complete.
In the meantime, the ambassador’s residence will remain in Herzliya, a city north of Tel Aviv. The residence, with its lawn and impressive views, has played host to American diplomatic events for many years.
Friedman also emphasized that relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was an American interest and not part of any negotiations for a final status agreement.
Other countries due to move their embassies to Jerusalem include Guatemala, scheduled for today, Paraguay and the Czech Republic and possibly Honduras and Georgia.