WASHINGTON — The official residences of U.S. ambassadors abroad are almost always prime pieces of real estate: stately mansions in sought-after neighborhoods where U.S. diplomats receive dignitaries, hold high-level meetings, and occasionally host presidents.
In Israel, the top US envoy has lived for more than half a century just outside Tel Aviv in a luxurious five-bedroom estate with stunning views of the Mediterranean. Israel gave the land to the United States in the 1950s.
Still, President Donald J. Trump sold the property when he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. And that has prompted the latest US ambassador to Israel, Thomas R. Nides, to resort to the rental market for a home.
Mr Nides, who arrived in Israel on Monday, has said that he will dwell in Jerusalem close to the embassy. However, more than half of the embassy’s staff still live in Tel Aviv, hampered by skyrocketing housing prices in Jerusalem and the security measures required for US officials living there. That arrangement requires Mr Nides to take an hour-long drive several times a week to meet with his own diplomats.
Officials said Mr Nides was happy to live in Jerusalem. But more than a lost perk, the former ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv’s exclusive suburb of Herzliya Pituach has become a symbol of the logistical difficulties US diplomats have faced in Israel since the US embassy moved.
Frustration over the sale of the home resurfaced among US diplomats this week when Mr. Nides, a career banker who served as the State Department’s deputy secretary for management and resources under the Obama administration, took up his new position. Two State Department officials described the situation on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.
In late 2017, Trump reversed seven decades of US policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a dramatic response to demands for continued US support for the Jewish state. At the same time, he also ordered the embassy to move to Jerusalem.
That happened a few months later, when the embassy was moved to a building that had housed the US consulate in Jerusalem and had served as the main diplomatic stopover for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2019, the consulate folded into the embassy, effectively relegating US representation to the Palestinians.
David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said a senior Trump administration official told him in 2020 that the government had sold the ambassador’s residence to ensure a Democratic president wouldn’t try embassy back to Tel Aviv. .
“Burn the lifeboats,” Mr. Makovsky said cruelly.
“The old residence was on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, it had a large swimming pool and a lush, large garden where you could house Israelis on July 4, 2000,” said Mr. Makovsky, a former senior adviser to the Special Envoy to Israelis. -Palestinian negotiations from 2013 to 2014. “Now you are in a situation where there is no natural abode for the ambassador.”
In July 2020, the Herzliya residence was sold for about $67 million to Sheldon Adelson, a Republican mega-donor who had pushed Mr. Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Mr Adelson died in January and his family has kept the house in Herzliya for personal use, according to a person familiar with the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Nides’ immediate predecessor, David M. Friedman, lived in the official residence for some time after Mr. Adelson bought it, said the person familiar with the situation, although it was not clear whether he was paying rent. Mr. Friedman and his former associates did not respond to requests for comment, and the Adelson family declined to comment through a spokesperson.
An official said Mr Friedman also sometimes stayed in an apartment in the grounds of the embassy in Jerusalem, where the diplomatic mission’s quiet chargé d’affaires, Michael Ratney, had lived this year as he bridged the gap between the two ambassadors.
But the pied-à-terre at the embassy offers little privacy and none of the grandeur for the formal events a US ambassador is expected to host at the United States’ closest Middle Eastern ally.
State Department officials have been house-hunting in Jerusalem for a new ambassador residence for months, but the process of buying real estate and equipping it with security measures and other sensitive equipment will most likely take time. Building a new embassy could take up to a decade, officials said.
The department has since rented a more modest apartment in Jerusalem for Mr. Nides. It’s not clear how much the lease will cost US taxpayers, and the State Department declined to provide an estimate on Wednesday.
As diplomatically awkward as it may be, there is a precedent for an ambassador without an official residence.
In a twist, Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, also had to find a new place to live when he arrived in Washington in mid-November. The official residence of the Israeli ambassador was demolished in recent years after falling into disrepair, and the past two ambassadors lived in a rented house in suburban Maryland for an estimated cost of nearly $2 million since 2013 before the lease expired this fall. .
The Israeli government has said it will rebuild its ambassador’s residence in Washington’s leafy Forest Hills neighborhood a short distance from the embassy within a year. For now, officials said, Mr. Herzog is living in a hotel until he can find his own rental property.