JERUSALEM (TUSEN) — There is no plaque on the door of the US ambassador’s new residence in Jerusalem, no visible Stars and Stripes, no official listing as notable property overseas.
The US envoy’s official residence is a rental and temporary, officials said, secure after two years of house hunting following then-President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the US embassy. United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ambassador Tom Nides moved into the elegantly renovated villa in the leafy German colony of West Jerusalem last spring. Local real estate agents estimate its value at around $23 million, and its landlord and the embassy have confirmed that it is rented as the official residence of the US envoy.
Emek Refaim Street is the final stop for the US ambassador’s home on a more than three-year migration from the coastal cliffs north of Tel Aviv to tension-filled Jerusalem. The trip reflects the divisive legacy of the Trump administration and the reluctance of President Joe Biden – who will visit the region next month – to trouble relations with Israel over the issue.
Trump upended decades of US policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, drawing applause from many Israelis and infuriating Palestinians.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in an internationally unrecognized move. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Most countries maintain embassies in Tel Aviv due to the long-standing dispute.
Trump moved the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, and with it the historic residence of the American Ambassador. Under various presidents, the envoy had previously been housed in a sprawling five-bedroom resort built on an acre (nearly half a hectare) of land, which Israel gave to the United States shortly after independence in 1948.
The previous residence was a social hub for relations between the two close allies. It was known for its July 4 eruptions, when thousands of specially invited guests watched the sunset and fireworks over the Mediterranean Sea.
Trump’s decision put an end to all that. The United States sold the property for more than $67 million, according to official Israeli records. The State Department declined to release key details of the sale, but Israeli business newspaper Globes identified the buyer as one of Trump’s biggest contributors: US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who died in 2021.
The cliffside compound looked little changed from outside the walls on a recent day. Two Israeli flags fluttered from the masts in the sea breeze. A spokesperson for the Adelson family declined to comment.
The decision to sell the residence appears to be aimed at preventing any future president from canceling the embassy move, something Biden has long ruled out.
But it also forced US diplomats stationed in the region – most of whom continued to work in Tel Aviv – to embark on a difficult search for new excavations.
When Nides arrived last December, the plight of the “homeless ambassador” was the talk of the town in diplomatic circles. There were simply not many options in crowded Jerusalem for a compound large and secure enough to serve as the official residence of an American ambassador.
In most countries, the official residence is not just the ambassador’s home, but a place for official ceremonies and social gatherings. A cramped apartment will simply not suffice.
Nides first moved into the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem, a fairly upbeat address but not a fit accommodation for entertaining. Last spring, he moved to German Colony property, one of Jerusalem’s most desirable neighborhoods.
The United States rents it and has informed Israel that the property will be the official residence of the American envoy, according to the embassy. Further terms of the arrangement were not made public, but there are no plans to move the ambassador to another location. Officials in both countries, as well as the landlord, declined to comment on the value of the property or its monthly rent.
If the intention was to keep the residence low-key, that’s over too. June 8, Nides tweeted a photo of his “new neighborhood cafe in the German Colony.” His residence is surrounded by a high white picket fence and dotted with security cameras. Guards can often be seen, according to local shop owners. When a door opens, viewers can see a parking lot and courtyard.
Arielle Cohen, legal counsel for the owner, Blue Marble Ltd., does not dispute local reports that the company has spent 50 million shekels (about $14.5 million) on historic restoration. His father, Avi Ruimi, grew up in the German colony and founded the business, which specializes in historic restorations and has several other addresses down the street.
Blue Marble purchased the property in 2004. Construction took six years to complete in 2020, as it became clear the US Ambassador would need a new home.
“We knew it was a possibility,” Cohen said in an interview. She declined to comment on the signing process, but called the contract a “wonderful milestone”. She said the residence itself is about 570 square meters (about 6,000 square feet) with a second building that’s roughly double the size.
A gallery on the company’s website indicates that one building includes two apartments and commercial space. The second is “a beautiful private villa”. A portfolio on the Blue Marble website shows an elegantly renovated interior, with a modern kitchen, light fixtures and high ceilings.
Local media reported that the property dates back to 1930 and was built by a wealthy Palestinian family. West Jerusalem was home to a number of upscale Palestinian neighborhoods known for stone villas before the 1948 war surrounding the establishment of Israel, when most Palestinians on that side of town fled or were driven out.
The residence housed single British police officers during the British Mandate before 1948 and has also been used as a fire station, school and flower shop over the years.
It’s unclear if Biden will visit the residence during his brief stopover in Israel next month.
His talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders will likely focus on another consequence of Trump’s embassy move: the closure of a US consulate in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians.
Palestinians have called on the Biden administration to keep its promise to reopen the consulate, which would strengthen their claim to part of the city and help mend US-Palestinian ties severed during the Trump years.
Israel is adamantly opposed to any reopening of the consulate for the same reason – another real estate dispute in an area where they seem to be mushrooming year after year.