The Trump administration is weighing an offer from casino magnate and big-time Republican donor Sheldon Adelson to partially fund the construction of a new embassy in Jerusalem, U.S. officials said.
State Department lawyers are looking into the legal framework for accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, reported The Associated Press, citing four administration officials.
Adelson, a staunchly pro-Israel billionaire, has offered to pay the difference between the total cost of construction and what the administration is able to raise from other donors in the evangelical Christian and Jewish communities. The new embassy is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Donald Trump touched off an international firestorm in December when he officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy there as soon as possible. The move was widely hailed in Israel, which has always claimed undivided Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, but excoriated by Palestinian and Arab leaders, who consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Since the decision, the Trump administration has wrestled with different timetables for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who opposed moving the embassy in the first place, advocated a slower process that would take several years. He signed off on a plan Friday to inaugurate an interim embassy on May 14, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
The plan calls for a phased approach for expanding the existing U.S. consulate Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. Initially, the State Department will build out a small suite of offices there to house U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and some of his senior staff. Most of the embassy employees will remain at the current facility in Tel Aviv until later stages in the expansion.
It is unclear how much money Adelson, one of the Republican Party’s biggest financiers and a major supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is willing to contribute to the new embassy.
Total building costs for new diplomatic facilities, particularly high-profile embassies, regularly reach several hundred million dollars. The new U.S. embassy in London, which officially opened in January, came with a $1 billion price tag.
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