Analysts hail US decision to move embassy, but not Adelson’s offer to pay for it

The report that American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson has offered to donate $500 million to pay for the new US embassy building in Jerusalem has analysts confused.

By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

“President Trump, you are a great friend of the State of Israel and we all thank you.” Those words from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday following the US announcement that its embassy will be officially moved from Tel Aviv to temporary quarters in Jerusalem by no later than May of  this year.

Netanyahu called the announcement “a great moment for the citizens of Israel and an historic moment for the State of Israel.” The move is expected to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary in May 2018. “On behalf of the entire government and people, I would like to thank President Trump for both his leadership and his friendship,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, scheduled to meet Trump in the White House next Monday, is expected to invite the president to take part in the opening ceremony for the embassy.

It was also reported that pro-Israel Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson has offered to donate $500 million to pay for the new permanent US embassy in Jerusalem and that the US Department of State is examining whether it’s legal for an American embassy to be privately funded. The new embassy is as yet unplanned, but US officials have put the price tag at anywhere between $60 million and $1 billion.

Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told World Israel News (WIN), “The intention is for there to be an interim US move that will relocate the ambassador and his immediate staff to Jerusalem. This is a positive development and it underscores the president’s commitment to fulfill his campaign promise as soon as possible in order to avoid the political hills and valleys of world politics. The principal of the move is the important thing and not whether there is a new fancy building.”

Regarding the potential Adelson donation, Diker said, “This would be an unprecedented move and I don’t understand it. A private donor would open up Israel and the US to severe criticism, especially when it is from a Jewish donor, a Trump donor who is heavily invested in Israel. This would be potentially explosive and unwise, to say the least.”

Col. Miri Eisin, former spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s Office, told WIN, “Making the decision to move the embassy without actually moving it made no sense. Now we see the action and I support it even if they rent facilities while building a nice new embassy.”

Eisin was appalled by the idea of the embassy being privately funded. “They don’t need the money of Adelson or anybody else. It’s unseemly. The land where the current embassy sits is so very expensive. They can sell it and use the funds to buy and build in Jerusalem.

“I don’t know if accepting money for the embassy is legal, and that’s really an American issue,” she added. “But if it is privately funded, that would definitely take away from what must be a building bought and paid for by the US government.”

The US embassy is expected to be housed temporarily in the consular building in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem. In the first stage, it will accommodate only the offices of US Ambassador David Friedman and a small staff. By the end of next year, the intention is to open an embassy annex that will expand available office space.

In the meantime, a search has begun for a site to house a permanent embassy in the capital, with planning and construction expected to take a number of years.