By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The United States says it will open its new embassy in Jerusalem in May, a move scheduled to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
The planned opening of the embassy, which marks a reversal of decades of U.S. policy, was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it was announced by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on February 23.
“It will turn Israel’s 70th Independence Day into an even greater national celebration,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted on Twitter by the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Trump’s announcement last year that Washington would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem infuriated Palestinians and their Arab allies.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared the entire city as its capital, a move not recognized by the international community.
“We are planning to open the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. The embassy opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary,” AFP quoted a State Department spokesperson as saying on February 23.
The relocation date announced on February 23 is sooner than had originally been suggested by U.S. officials.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had said last month that the move would be completed by the end of 2019.
The embassy will be in located in the building that houses U.S. consular operations in Jerusalem before moving to a separate annex by the end of 2019, the State Department said.
The United States has begun the search for a permanent location, it added.
Israel’s intelligence minister, Israel Katz, said on Twitter on February 23 that he would like to congratulate Trump “on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel’s 70th Independence Day.”
“There is no greater gift than that!” Katz wrote.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) denounced the decision, calling it a “provocation to all Arabs.”
“The American administration’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and choose the Palestinian people’s Naqba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law,” Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO, was quoted by AFP as saying.