Israel yesterday approved the expansion of the US embassy in Jerusalem, only three months after its controversial relocation to the occupied city.
The Jerusalem Municipality fast-tracked building permits to enable the expansion plans, adding a further 700 square metres to the existing structure, the Times of Israel reported. This will expand the embassy's office space, create new entrances and allow additional staff to be transferred from the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem's Mayor, Nir Barkat, said that "the permits that I signed yesterday for the US embassy in Jerusalem are another stage in establishing and setting the role of the embassy in Israel's capital." He added the move would "strengthen the connection between Israel and the US" and was intended to support the US' "strategic decision" to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem was formally opened on 14 May amid widespread protests and international condemnation. The embassy's opening ceremony was boycotted by 54 out of 86 ambassadors to Israel, while international leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, slammed the decision.
US President, Donald Trump, announced his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017. Trump also unilaterally declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, despite the fact that the city's status was reserved for final status negotiations under the Oslo Accords agreed upon in the early 1990s.
The fast-tracking of the embassy's building permit will stoke controversy in light of the systematic denial of building permits to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. The lack of a building permit is then frequently used as justification for Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes.
Statistics from Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem, show that since 2004, 769 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem have been demolished on the grounds that they did not have a permit. In addition, from January 2016 to June 2018, B'Tselem reports that Israeli authorities demolished 122 non-residential structures in the city, including fences, storerooms, farming buildings, businesses and a mosque.
In July, the Jerusalem Centre for Legal Assistance and Human Rights said that Israel has demolished 63 Palestinian facilities in Jerusalem since the start of 2018. These demolitions resulted in the displacement of 51 Palestinians, including 21 minors, the report added.