The United States is expected to open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May, a US official told Reuters on Friday, a move from Tel Aviv that reverses decades of US policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in contact with the US Administration and will respond if and when an American announcement is made on the planned US Embassy move to Jerusalem, an Israeli government source said on Friday.
US President Donald Trump announced last year that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating even Washington’s Arab allies and dismaying Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as their capital.
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A May opening appears to represent an earlier time frame than what had been expected. While speaking in the Israeli parliament last month, US Vice President Mike Pence said the move would take place by the end of 2019.
The opening will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, said the US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Palestinians slam US embassy Jerusalem opening as 'provocation'
The Palestinian leadership on Friday slammed a US decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem in May, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, as "a provocation to Arabs".
The founding of Israel seven decades ago on May 14 1948 is mourned by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe" when an estimated 750,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's creation.
"The American administration's decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and choose the Palestinian people's Nakba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law," Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) number two Saeb Erekat told AFP.
He said the result would be "the destruction of the two state option, as well as a blatant provocation to all Arabs and Muslims."
Israel follows the Jewish lunar calendar and this year's official independence celebration falls on April 19.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz was quick to welcome the opening date.
"I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel's 70th Independence Day," he wrote in English on his Twitter account.
"There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!"
US President Donald Trump in December broke with decades of policy in Washington by officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledging to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.
Since that declaration 27 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed in violence. Arab and Muslim leaders have warned that there could be a further escalation if the embassy is moved.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war, as the capital of the state to which they aspire.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.
There is a broad international consensus that the dispute must be resolved as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Embassies in Israel are therefore in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.
The US state department said that ambassador David Friedman would initially work out of the large US Consulate General in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, situated between the east and west sides of the city.
Eventually a permanent embassy building would be constructed, it said.
The relatively new consulate complex, on the edge of Jerusalem adjacent to Jewish and Palestinian residential neighborhoods, could pose potential challenges to US and Israeli security personnel.