US granted permit to convert Jerusalem consulate to embassy

US Consulate-General Israel Photo: Reuters

The National Planning and Building Commission has granted an exemption from the planning process required so that the embassy will be ready in May.

The National Planning and Building Commission, headed by Planning Authority chairperson Dalit Zilber, today unanimously approved Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon’s recommendation to grant an exemption to the US embassy for converting the US consulate into a temporary embassy starting this coming May. The building will serve as the US ambassador’s offices. Senior US State Department officials asked for permission to convert the consulate in the Arnona neighborhood into a building suitable for housing the ambassador, including construction of a three-meter high wall around the building and the paving of an escape route from it. Kahlon is due to sign the order in the coming days.

The National Planning and Building Commission said that the national importance and urgency of completing the necessary security arrangements by the upcoming date for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem by President Donald Trump had been explained to it. In view of the need for adaptations of the existing building to the security requirements of a site housing the ambassador, which must be completed by the date of the transfer, the National Planning and Building Commission decided to recommend the exemption, which will be officially granted by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Commission. The exemption will be granted for a three-year period. During this period, the embassy is also expected to plan a permanent building for a new embassy on the site of the Diplomat Hotel, close to the US consulate that will be converted into a temporary embassy.

The exemption granted means that objections to the work cannot be filed, including construction of a high wall and escape route. Zilber said, “In the discussion, the National Planning and Building Commission considered the planning aspects of the US embassy in Jerusalem. In view of the fact that the request does not breach the existing planning framework, the Commission unanimously decided to recommend rapid progress in moving the embassy to Jerusalem on the planned date.”

Kahlon announced last week that he had decided to recommend that the National Planning and Building Commission grant the exemption, following a letter sent to him by Ministry of Foreign Affairs director general Yuval Rotem, which made it clear that a number of senior US State Department officials had recently visited the consulate and met with Israeli authorities, including the Ministry of Finance Planning Administration. The officials made it clear in these meetings that in order to adapt the existing site to the security needs of the US and the ambassador's office, the US government needs to carry out essential security construction work and complete it by the time of the transfer of the embassy.

"As part of this, a 3.2-meter wall covered with Jerusalem stone must be built surrounding the site," Rotem wrote to Kahlon. "An escape road must be paved from the southern parking lot of the Diplomat Hotel along the western edge of the Mordot Arnona neighborhood to the intersection of Leib Yaffe Street and Asher Weiner Street."

The letter also says that it was found that the planned construction does not comply with the local outline plan applying to the place, which was zoned for the US general consulate, not the embassy.

"The State Department can file a request for an exemption from the existing plan or a change in it. These processes, however, are likely to take a long time, especially if objections to them are filed, and will prevent completion of the world at the time set for moving the embassy to Jerusalem in mid-May 2018. Unless this work is completed, the site will not fulfill the security requirements of the State Department for the US embassy."

Rotem adds, "There is no need to waste words describing the political and national importance of the Israeli government providing every assistance to the US government, Israel's greatest friend, in completing the project of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem at the time decided. Both the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs agree with me that this is unquestionably a project of national importance and urgency, and that the special circumstances of the case unquestionably justify the exercise of your authority under the law."

Rotem states that after consultation, it was found that this appears to be the only way of allowing completion of the work for moving the embassy to Jerusalem on time, and that it is necessary for the Jerusalem municipality to do the work.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 27, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

US Consulate-General Israel Photo: Reuters
US Consulate-General Israel Photo: Reuters
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