Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday signed paperwork that will set into motion the controversial relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Along with the announcement comes an unusual offer from billionaire casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson has offered to help the White House pay for the construction of a new embassy. The project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but this shouldn’t be a problem for Adelson, whose fortune is estimated at just over $40 billion.
Adelson was the single largest donor in the 2016 presidential election, contributing $25 million to Trump’s presidential campaign and another $5 million to his inauguration committee. Adelson is also a major supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and owns a pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily newspaper called Israel Hayom.
Accepting Adelson’s offer would be a significant risk for Trump, who already faces criticism over his decision to move the embassy. And it certainly won’t please Palestinian leaders, who haven’t spoken with Administration officials since the announcement of the embassy’s move back in December.
Mort Klein, President of the pro-Israel Zionist Organization of American, has urged Trump to turn down the offer. “This is a government project. It’s a government-run embassy. I don’t want people to be able to say it was Jewish money.”
In the meantime, State Department officials are in the process of determining whether accepting Adelson’s gift would represent a conflict of interest.
It is unclear whether a private citizen has ever contributed to the construction of an embassy.
“In one possible scenario, the Administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but potentially from other donors in the evangelical and American Jewish communities,” reports USA Today. In that case, Adelson would pay the difference between the total cost and what the White House is able to raise.
Starting in May, some embassy officials will begin working at an existing consular facility in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona. Over time, the facility will be expanded to accommodate more personnel.
Officials are hoping to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the temporary embassy on May 14th, which marks the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring independence. Netanyahu celebrated the news, saying the opening would turn the holiday into “an even greater national celebration.”