JERUSALEM – The United States sold the ambassador’s residence in Israel for more than $67 million in July, according to an official Israeli record of the sale that shines new light on a transaction that has been shrouded in secrecy.
The State Department confirmed the sale in September but refused to identify the buyer or disclose the sale price of the sprawling beachfront compound in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. On Tuesday, it said the sale had been “open and transparent.”
The Israeli business newspaper Globes has identified the buyer as the U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong supporter of both President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A representative of Adelson said the billionaire had no comment.
At more than $67 million, it appears to be the most expensive single residence ever sold in Israel. Congressional aides told The Associated Press in September that lawmakers in the House and Senate were looking into whether the sale of the residence complied with regulations.
The sale helped to cement Trump's controversial decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem in 2018 and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By selling the residence, it would make it harder for future presidents to reverse the decision to move the embassy. President-elect Joe Biden has criticized the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem but says he will not reverse it.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Nearly all countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv because of the dispute over east Jerusalem.
Records posted by Israel's tax authority on Monday show that the sale of the official residence was concluded on July 31, several weeks before the State Department acknowledged it. They list the sale price as 230,353,536 Israeli shekels. That's $67,592,000 according to that day's official exchange rate.
In Israel, the sale price listed by the tax authority almost always matches the actual sale price, but in exceptional cases — for example, when a property is gifted to someone — the two may differ.
On Aug. 31, a month after the sale, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement that “it made sense” to sell the residency and said it expected the sale “to move ahead in the coming months.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the State Department said the sale process was “open and transparent and included professional appraisals and advice to maximize value.”
“The buyer was selected solely on the basis that they submitted the highest offer,” it added, without saying how many bids were made or identifying any of the potential buyers.
The State Department had earlier said it would continue to lease the property until spring 2021, without specifying how much it would pay in rent. But on Tuesday it said there was “no provision for a leaseback with rent payment.” It said closing would take place in the coming months, after the completion of "administrative and procedural tasks.”
The Israeli real-estate office that brokered the deal referred all questions to the U.S. Embassy.