The current move, then, is mostly symbolic, including a changing of a sign and the move of the ambassador and his secretary, and possibly a visit from US President Donald Trump, who decided on the move to begin with.
The capital's American consulate stretches across 6,000 square meters of actual construction, with rights to up to 25,000 square meters—rights that will be realized in full over the next six years to create the new embassy complex.
In honor of the impending move, fitting works were carried out on the existing structure, including interior changes in how spaces are organized and improving security measures in entrances and fences.
According to the plan, a perimeter wall more than three meters high will be built and an escape route will be paved. A basement—which has thus far remained locked—will be put to use and an opulent, high-end chamber and office will be built for the ambassador.
The construction of the wall is not a declaratory move, as until work on it is completed the mission will be an embassy in name alone. Moreover, even following the festive inauguration ceremony, the US ambassador will only be able to make limited use of the complex—using it for meetings and daily activities, but not residing there permanently.
In the second phase, set to be carried out over the next three years, floors will be added to the structure as well as a new building that will house embassy employees coming in from Tel Aviv.
At the same time, the embassy reached out to a Jerusalem realtor to help it locate properties for rent, in order to move various other units to the capital as well.
An embassy building on the ground of the nearby Diplomat Hotel will only be built in the future, explained architect Amir Mann of the Amir Mann / Ami Shinar Architects & Planners firm. Mann served as the head of the planning team for the consulate complex.
Embassy to be planned by American firm
Some 20 planning companies and two New York firms were hired to map out the project. The American State Department usually employs selected American firms, but deviated from the norm by hiring a local Israeli team, including an Israeli contractor to carry out the work.
Unlike the consulate building, it appears the embassy structure will be planned by an American team, possibly accompanied to some extent by Israelis.
A five-storey structure was originally planned to be built on the site—which stretches over some 25 dunam in the capital's Arnona neighborhood. The building was to include a 5,000 square meter floor for the consulate, with a four-storey structure above it to serve the remainder of the US government's activities in Jerusalem.
The plan was created and approved at a record time of 14 months. However, due to budgetary limitations, the additional floors over the consular structure have yet to be completed.
A road and a kilometer-long access route were completed, however, using American funds, to allow access directly to the complex with minimal traffic in the adjacent residential neighborhood. A car park for employees and visitors was built as well.
The embassy will not replace the existing Tel Aviv consulate, which will provide passport issues and renewals and US visa services, alongside other consular services.
The aforementioned services are also provided in the existing Jerusalem structure, which is not planned to meet the entire demand of people contacting the Tel Aviv mission.
The Diplomat Hotel, which serves as a residence for elderly olim, will be demolished. The embassy will then be built in its stead, while integrating existing structures and constructing new ones both above and below ground.
Israelis residing around the ambitious project are less than pleased. The embassy is located on the Seam Zone, and locals fear for their safety and complain that the works will be carried out at an accelerated pace against the orders of local planning and construction bylaws.
Their impact on the project will nevertheless be minimal, as the government has marked the project as one of national importance. Arnona residents still appealed to the High Court of Justice against a building permit exemption given to the wall surrounding the embassy.
In its reply to the petition, the state said, "A difficulty was discovered in the Jerusalem municipality building the fence, and talks are therefore ongoing among government ministries to agree on the identity of the body that will carry out the work."
As for the project's cost, President Trump has said he received a document citing a cost of one billion dollars, but assured the American public by claiming actual costs will run in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars.
MKs incensed at being shut out of embassy opening
A number of MKs protested the fact that tickets for the inauguration event had run out, leaving them out of the proceedings once again, after their exclusion from the torch lighting ceremony this past Independence Day.
Several coalition MKs contacted the US Embassy's staff and were disappointed to learn they would not be invited due to constraints of space.
Apart from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, embassy officials said, only heads of parties will be invited to the grand opening, in addition to a very limited number of ministers and other officials.
"We're the worker bees who did all of the legwork for the embassy move," lamented one MK. "It's very disappointing to be shut out of the ceremony at the moment of truth."
Amihai Attali contributed to this report.