You’re paying about a hundred times what President Trump claimed you would for the United States to build an embasy in Jerusalem, the contested capital of both modern Israel and historic Palestine.
A contractor based in Maryland charged the State Department $21.2 million to plan and erect the facility’s security structures, ABC News reported Tuesday. Trump claimed the building had cost just a quarter-million dollars, during a March meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
The figure waffled a bit in other statements, from a low of $150,000 to a high of $300 or $400,000. But the narrative was consistent: Trump had figured out a way to build something important for cheap, just like the dishonest legend of his real estate moguldom would have you expect.
The building’s cost is far from its most important or most controversial feature. Successive American presidents had deferred plans to move the U.S. diplomatic presence from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for decades, in deference to the campaign to forge a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Diplomats have believed for ages that the peace process, which long ago became a hackneyed metaphor for intractably difficult conflicts of all kinds, would fail permanently if the U.S. government granted Israeli hardliners’ wish to treat Jerusalem as its capital to the exclusion of Palestinian claims on the holy city.
Trump’s abrupt reversal of that longstanding keystone of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East was not a random blip. Other basic building blocks of that peace-fostering orientation had already begun to evaporate under tremendous pressure from the powerful Israel lobby here in the U.S., most notably when then-President Barack Obama invoked a decades-long diplomatic understanding that lasting peace would involve two states “based on the 1967 [borders] with mutually agreed swaps” of lands currently held by either Israel or its neighbors.
Though conservative hawks initially heralded that Obama speech as movement toward their position, suddenly the narrative swerved. Obama had only restated what many diligent, longstanding students of the conflict had been saying was necessary for years, yet the phrase was depicted as an attack on Israeli sovereignty. What had once been a broad consensus was then depicted, by disingenuous opportunists, as Obama calling for “Auschwitz borders” on the Israeli state.
Trump’s embassy move was therefore a consummation of a long, concerted effort to undermine the long-agreed predicates for peace. As settlement activity gobbled up the land in dispute, like someone eating the pizza they claim to want to split with you then accusing you of being unreasonable when you ask them to stop while you discuss it, and right-wing advocates in the U.S. kicked the supports out from under diplomacy, the prospects for peace went from distant to invisible.
A U.S. decision to cut Palestinians out of Jerusalem was consistent with that descent into side-choosing, but that didn’t prevent it from prompting mass outcry and protest actions from Palestinians — thousands of whom were shot by Israeli soldiers during an event where Trump’s family members celebrated the new embassy’s opening.
Trump lying about what the embassy’s physical materials would cost U.S. taxpayers is small potatoes next to the costs he inflicted on regional stability by making the move. But as political observers and voters hope to at least catalog the full litany of this administration’s callousness, dishonesty, grifting, and amorality, it’s nonetheless worth noting: Donald Trump said the embassy would cost “about $250,000,” but it actually cost $21.2 million.
But it’s not a total loss — at least not for Trump himself. The move convinced officials to put Trump’s name on at least two valuable pieces of Israeli real estate: a prominent train station, and a professional soccer team with a notorious track record for anti-Arab racism among its fans.