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Adelson set to buy US ambassador's residence in Tel Aviv

Washington is reportedly rushing the sale of the abandoned US ambassador's residence in Tel Aviv to US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, adding another layer of solidity to the embassy's transfer to Jerusalem before the November election.
Sheldon Adelson is seated prior to the inauguartion of President-elect Donald Trump at the US Capitol January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.  / AFP / Paul J. Richards        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

In just about every election season for decades, US presidential candidates have promised to move the embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Donald Trump actually did it in May 2018. With the embassy came the ambassador. Even before his appointment, Ambassador David Friedman had an apartment in Jerusalem’s well-to-do Talbieh neighborhood and usually spent his holidays there. With the relocation of the embassy, it became his official residence.

The move left the ambassador's previous residence in the seaside town of Herzliya Pituach suddenly empty. The house, which is thought to be the most expensive home in Israel, was put on the market with a price tag of 300 million shekels ($100 million).

Tal Schneider and Shai Shalev of the financial newspaper Globes report that the main candidate to purchase the property is Sheldon Adelson. The American Jewish billionaire is very involved in Israeli politics and is a particularly avid supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Back in the United States, he is also a top donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

The report claims that Adelson offered the full price of 300 million shekels for the property, which would be the highest price ever paid for any residential property in Israel. Negotiations moved quickly to get the deal signed, not least so that it will be completed before the upcoming US election. The report also says that the current US administration considers it important for the sale to be completed before November to underscore the idea that the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem is a done deal that cannot be walked back. If Joe Biden is elected, he will likely try to undo at least some of Trump’s foreign policy decisions. One thing he won’t be able to revert is the decision to move the embassy.

The house on Galei Techelet Street in Herzliya sits atop a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It occupies 1,000 square meters on a five-dunam property (about 1.25 acres). It was built by the US State Department in the 1960s and registered as the property of the US government.

Why Adelson? The billionaire is one of very few businessmen active in Israel who can afford such a property, even after suffering enormous losses because of the coronavirus and the ensuing financial crisis. His company, Las Vegas Sands, which owns casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau, reported just $98 million in earnings in this year’s second quarter, a sharp decline from $3.3 billion in the same quarter last year. His net losses were close to $1 billion, but Edelson still has more than enough money to buy the property. He appears in the 28th slot in the Forbes list of international billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $32.8 billion.

But why him and not some other businessman? For one thing, Adelson is very involved in Israeli and US politics. He has been one of the biggest donors to the Republican Party and its presidential candidates for several years now. He also funded the campaign against then-President Barack Obama’s Israel policy, with its demand that Israel withdraw from the settlements. In 2016, he donated over $20 million to the Trump campaign, making him the biggest private donor apart from Trump himself, who poured in $66 million of his personal fortune.

He is one of the major supporters of Birthright Israel, a project that brings young Jews to the country for an educational experience. He also pours huge sums into the settlements. He contributed $25 million to build the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine named for him and his wife at the University of Ariel in the West Bank.

Adelson has maintained a close relationship with Netanyahu for many years now. He acquired and operated the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which supports Netanyahu and his policies almost unquestioningly. More recently, their relationship received something of a jolt, when news was first released about “Case 2000.” Netanyahu was eventually indicted along with the publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Arnon Mozes. According to the charges, Mozes approached Netanyahu about interfering with the distribution of Israel Hayom, which had become his paper’s chief competitor, surpassing it in distribution. Adelson himself was interrogated about it. Once he learned that Netanyahu was allegedly willing to interfere with his newspaper, Adelson was so furious that he informed his interrogators that he would never meet with Netanyahu again.

Adelson continues to support his newspaper, no matter how much money it loses, and maintains his influence on the Israeli public opinion.

His possible purchase of the most expensive residential property in Israel is in line with his political positions, particularly his desire to ensure that the US Embassy remains in Jerusalem. His purchase will directly support the two politicians with whom he identifies most closely: Trump and Netanyahu.

An official source in the Jerusalem embassy told Al-Monitor that the sale has yet to be finalized and so it is premature to comment.

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