Trump says he may still come to Israel for Jerusalem embassy opening. Israeli officials caught off-guard

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli officials told local media they were surprised to learn that President Donald Trump may still travel to Israel for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Trump on Friday in Washington during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters when asked who would be among the 250-person-strong delegation attending the opening of the controversial Jerusalem embassy that “I may go. Very proud of it.”

Trump’s name was not on the documents provided to Israel by the United States regarding the U.S. delegation scheduled to attend the May 14 ceremony, Hadashot news reported.

It would be Trump’s second trip to Israel since taking office.

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The delegation is reported to include 40 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Trump son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and the president’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump, and special Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt. It was initially said to be led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is Jewish, and now rumored that it will be led by new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump also said during the news conference on Friday that he had nearly signed a plan for relocating and constructing a new embassy at a cost of $1 billion, but then rejected the plan in favor of one that will cost between $300,000 and $400,000. He added that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had recommended a pared-down plan that would only cost $150,000 by simply converting the existing consular facility.

“It is going to be beautiful. And it will be somewhat temporary, but it could be for many years,” Trump said.

 The new embassy initially will be housed in southern Jerusalem, in the Arnona neighborhood, on a compound that currently houses the consular operations of the Consulate General of Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and some staff will begin working out of the consular section beginning in May. In the second phase, by the end of 2019, an annex on site will be constructed for a more permanent working space for the ambassador, staff and a classified processing site. The third phase, the site selection and construction of a new embassy, will take up to nine years.

Trump has heralded his Dec. 6, 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the embassy as a highlight of his administration. He said last month at a White House meeting with Netanyahu that he was considering coming to Israel for the opening of the embassy.