As promised by President Donald Trump, the US will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to temporary quarters in Jerusalem in May. The US will also soon have to set about the location and design of a permanent embassy building.
According to a source in the US Embassy in Israel, "We are examining several alternatives including land in Jerusalem that is already leased or owned by the US government and that includes the Arnona (Talpiot) complex. We anticipate that the process of finding a location, design, planning, receiving approvals and construction will take seven to nine years."
With the symbolic importance of Jerusalem in the US religious psyche, it can only be assumed that the US State Department will arrange a competition for some of America's finest architects to come up with an appropriate design as they did for US embassies in London and Beijing, among other cities.
A custom designed, distinct and landmark embassy building will be a refreshing change for Israel's diplomatic landscape. For well-known political reasons, most of the foreign embassy buildings in Israel are makeshift affairs in Tel Aviv. For example, the German embassy is on the 19th floor of the Rassco Tower on Daniel Frisch street and the French embassy is a plain box on Herbert Samuel street on the seafront. Even the US embassy in Hayarkon Street is a non-descript, ordinary looking building.
For the time being much of the focus will be on the US Consul-General complex in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood near Talpiot. The land was first developed in the early 60s by veteran Israeli hotelier Haim Schiff who first saw the tourist potential of the site on the then border with Jordan and its panoramic view of the Judean Desert. Schiff acquired the land, on which there was a hostel for discharged soldiers, from neighboring Kibbutz Ramat Rachel.
Rumor has it that Schiff encroached on no-man's land when he began building the glistening new Diplomat Hotel. The diplomatic dispute was resolved when Israel captured the West Bank in the Six Day War in 1967. The 500-room hotel did not finally open its doors until 1972.
In 2003, the land around the hotel was sold by Schiff's heirs to the US government. The US built a new Consulate-General on the 6 acre site to replace its consulates in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah quarter and relieve the pressure on its consulate in Agron Street.
The new Jerusalem consulate building was designed by Israeli architects Mann Shinar together with landscape designer Barbara-Aronson. The six-floor building above parking and service areas is surrounded by large gardens. The style is a kind of Israeli high-tech that was popular 15 years ago combined with some tinted glass, aluminum and the mandatory Jerusalem stone. The building was never completely finished and the Consulate-General that was opened in 2010 is only a small part of the planned building.
In 2014, the Diplomat Hotel itself was sold to the US government. The hotel remains leased to the Ministry of Immigrant absorption until 2020 and the expectation is that the US will not take over full tenancy of the building, with the possibility of demolishing it and building the new embassy on the site, until then.
Another option for the embassy site is the former Allenby barracks just off the Hebron Road near the Armon Hanatziv promenade. This nearly 8 acre site was leased the US government in 2003 by the Israel Land Authority.
Rinat Sylvester from the Vision Properties real estate agencies describes the Allenby or Arnona locations as excellent. She said, "There are not many large areas available in Jerusalem. It might not be Rehavia or Talbieh but it is very close to the city center and the Old City. They are not going to build the embassy at Har Homa, Gilo or Ramot. They'll build it in a relatively central location and not over the green line. These are the only pieces of land of the size required in the heart of the city."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 13, 2018
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