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Risk of Violence Gauged 'Minute by Minute' Leading to Opening of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat poses with a new road sign to the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 7, 2018. (Jerusalem Municipality via AP)

WASHINGTON — Security is being monitored “minute by minute” as the countdown clock ticks down on Monday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, administration officials said today.

The permanent embassy is not built yet, so embassy offices will open in the existing U.S. consulate in Arnona, a neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. The ambassador will not work full-time there.

It’s not yet known if the new embassy will be built on the Arnona parcel of land, or if another location will be chosen as “there are other sites that potentially could be available to us, as well,” officials said on a conference call.

After initially signing waivers, as presidents Bush and Obama did, citing national security as the reason to not abide by the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, President Trump announced in December that the embassy would be moved. The State Department set a target of May at the time to have an opening ceremony.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will preside over the ceremony. The presidential delegation will exclude the president and be led by Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan, with Treasury Steve Mnuchin, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, White House Advisor Ivanka Trump, and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt.

A senior administration official said no one can “speak for the president or the vice president or Ambassador Haley on why they’re not coming.”

“I believe it all has to do with scheduling, but I just don’t know their schedules well enough. But as you know, the president’s got a lot on his plate, and I’m sure that he’d love to be here if he could,” the official added.

A few dozen members of Congress are also expected to fly to the Middle East for the opening.

“Moving our Embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal; rather it is a necessary condition for it. We are not taking a position on final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, nor on the resolution of contested borders,” the State Department said in a statement today.

“Consulate General Jerusalem will continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate responsible for U.S. relations with the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. The United States continues to support the status quo with regard to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The administration is firmly committed to pursuing a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians that promises a brighter future for both.”

An official said on the press call that “in terms of potential conflicts” raised by the move, “we look at this issue hourly.”

“We work closely with our law enforcement and security establishment here and our own people here in — from the United States and we work closely with Israeli police, with the Shin Bet, and we measure the risk of demonstrations and violence minute by minute,” the official said. “And so, we — you know, we’re confident that we’re considering all potential issues and risks and doing everything we can to mitigate those risks and so keep people safe.”

Hamas announced this week that they’re trying to whip up numbers for Gaza border protests in the upcoming week, though the terror group said the demonstrations are about the blockade.

One of the officials was “not aware of any members of the delegation that are meeting with the Palestinians but that doesn’t mean that they’re not. It’s just I’m not aware of it. They may have something else on the schedule.”

“I think the peace process is going to go forward. I think there’s — my own view, my own experience in discussions with many different Palestinians is that there remains a significant interest for peace, for a better life, for better education, better roads and hospitals and all the things that could be made available in this region if there was more peace and less violence,” the official added.