WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump told a rally that he rejected plans for a larger embassy in Jerusalem, suggesting that the move next week to a consular building in Israel’s capital was permanent.
Trump’s rejection of the longterm plans for a larger embassy in Jerusalem is at odds with plans laid out just months ago by administration officials, which depicted the imminent move of the embassy to a consular building as a stopgap, with a larger permanent embassy to be built within the next decade. He also appeared to vastly underestimate the cost of the interim move.
Trump spoke Thursday evening at a rally in Indiana for Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun. Trump said that once he decided to move the embassy to Jerusalem, last December, staff presented to him a plan for a $1 billion embassy that would take up to 10 years to build.
Trump said that the price tag and the projected length of time to build was “crazy” and he called the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, to clarify. “I put one of my friends as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, good choice, one of the great lawyers of our country, made a lot of money as a lawyer,” he said of Friedman, who was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer before Trump was elected president.
Friedman told him that there was an existing building in Jerusalem he could renovate for as little as $150,000. “I said David, you’re going to renovate a corner of a building and it will be beautiful. The site is the best site. The building is already built. We can fix it.” He said he told Friedman to spend up to $300,000.
According to proposals Trump administration officials provided to Congress members in February, Friedman and some staff will begin working next week out of the consular section at a cost of about $300,000 to $500,000 — the sum Trump appeared to be referring to at the rally.
However, in the second phase, by the end of 2019, an annex on site will be constructed for a more permanent working space for the ambassador, staff and a classified processing site. That will cost $10 million to $15 million, and the security arrangement will cost at least $45 million.
The third phase, the site selection and construction of a new embassy, will take up to nine years, and costs have indeed been projected at up to $1 billion. The State Department reportedly has looked into private funding for the new building.
The embassy opens May 14, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. It is located in the southern part of the city, in Arnona, on the western side of the seam between western and eastern Jerusalem in the years the city was split, from 1949-1967.
Trump at the rally emphasized his fulfillment of promises, including moving the embassy to Jerusalem; he correctly noted that many of his predecessors have promised such a move, but did not make good on their promises. He also noted that this week he fulfilled his pledge to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.