The red tape that could have delayed the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem was cut on Tuesday, when the National Planning and Construction Council authorized plans to build a wall and escape route from the structure chosen, when the embassy moves from Tel Aviv.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon exercised his rarely used authority to fast-track the process, so that the embassy will be able to move to Jerusalem – in part – in May, in conjunction with the celebrations of the state’s 70th year.
Kahlon – who tweeted his plan to President Donald Trump last week – plans in the coming days to sign onto the council’s decision to exempt the construction on the US-government owned Diplomat Hotel from going through the Jerusalem Municipality’s bureaucratic process.
“As we promised, we won’t let unnecessary bureaucracy delay moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital,” Kahlon said. “This is a diplomatic, strategic move for Israel, and the planning bodies that I head will do all that is necessary to fit the schedule. As Finance minister of the State of Israel, I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of this historic move.”
Trump announced US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the embassy move on December 6, while reaffirming his commitment to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians stating that he is “not taking a position on... the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
Kahlon’s part in the embassy move doesn’t only tie him to a move that is very popular to Israel. It is also a chance to score points in his rivalry with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who announced this week that he will not seek another term and will run for the Knesset with the Likud, instead.
Barkat has led the municipality to go on strike multiple times during Kahlon’s tenure as finance minister, allowing garbage to pile up around the capital, and leading protests outside the Finance Ministry and claiming Kahlon is depriving Jerusalem – Israel’s poorest large city – of much-needed funds.
A source close to Kahlon told The Jerusalem Post he didn’t mention Barkat by name, but emphasized that the embassy move had gotten stuck in the municipality’s bureaucracy.
He also pointed out that Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who held the planning portfolio, is on a leave of absence after he was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes.
A spokesman for Barkat said the embassy move “is not connected to the Jerusalem Municipality’s bureaucracy, but to the law. The law states that all construction, anywhere in the country, must undergo authorizations, committees, etc. The law has an article that allowed the finance minister to give an exemption from this process in special cases.
“Nothing is stuck, the opposite is true,” the spokesman added. “We are in constant contact with the Americans and they are fully satisfied.”