Trump Plans to Skip Opening of New U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump doesn’t plan to attend the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem next week, but is sending a high-powered delegation that includes his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The delegation will be led by deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, and includes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Jason Greenblatt, who is heading the Trump Administration’s Middle East peace negotiations, the White House said Monday.

Trump had previously said he was interested in attending the opening of the facility, which he authorized over warnings from world leaders that doing so could undermine peace efforts and result in violent protests. Most nations, including the U.S., have historically maintained their embassies in Tel Aviv.

"I may go, I’m very proud of it," Trump said late last month at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said previous presidents "never had the courage" to carry out the move.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is provocative because the eastern sector of the city -- home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- is also claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state. Previous presidents have sidestepped a 1995 law passed by Congress calling on the U.S. to relocate the main diplomatic facility, citing national security concerns and a reluctance to prejudge the city’s final status.

The Palestinian Authority has denounced the move and broken off participation in U.S.-brokered talks on a new potential peace deal.

Administration officials said when Trump’s decision was initially announced that the move would take years and would require the construction of a new diplomatic facility with state-of-the-art security. Instead, Trump opted to speed up the move by essentially re-labeling an existing consular facility.

Trump claimed in August that the decision would mean that the change only cost taxpayers $300,000 to $400,000, and that he made the decision after seeing the price tag for the construction of a new facility.

“But that’s the way government works,” he said. “They were going to spend a billion dollars and we’re going to spend much less than half a million dollars.”

Still, Trump acknowledged the new embassy "could be somewhat temporary," and the State Department is exploring the possibility of a larger, permanent facility that would enable it to move the embassy operations currently expected to remain in Tel Aviv.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.