Turkish firm refuses to build US embassy in Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu pose with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, 14 May. (US Embassy Jerusalem)

A Turkish firm has declined to take part in the construction of the new US embassy in Jerusalem even though a partnership it is involved in won the contract for the project.

Earlier this month, the US government awarded a $21 million contract to “upgrade” the embassy compound in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem to a partnership called Desbuild Limak D&K JV LLC.

The owners of the partnership include the Maryland-based contractor Desbuild and the Turkish construction giant Limak Holding. This led to media reports that Limak will build the embassy.

Last week, however, Limak denied any role in the project.

“The information that the construction of the US embassy in Jerusalem will be done by Limak Holding does not reflect the truth,” the company said.

“When the issue of the construction of the US embassy in Jerusalem came to [the] agenda, we informed Desbuild company that we will not participate as a partner in this project and we would not give an offer as Limak,” the firm added.

“Sensitive”

Nonetheless the contract was awarded to a partnership in which Limak is involved – a fact whose implications The Electronic Intifada sought to clarify.

Limak did not respond to a request for comment, however The Electronic Intifada spoke to Prakash Hosadurga, co-founder and director of Desbuild.

According to Hosadurga, the Desbuild Limak D&K JV LLC partnership holds an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity – or IDIQ – contract with the State Department.

This is a type of fixed-term federal contract that allows a company to bid for projects using a streamlined process, as a sort of contractor on call.

Under this arrangement, the Desbuild-Limak partnership has worked on other US government contracts, including construction of US government facilities in Beirut and Baghdad.

However, when it came to the Jerusalem project, Limak “did not want to take part at the proposal stage due to its sensitive nature,” Hosadurga told The Electronic Intifada. “So we are doing it by ourselves.”

Hosadurga said the relative role of partners depends on the specific project.

“We did the one in Beirut and they [Limak] had a bigger role and we had a smaller role,” Hosadurga said. “But in this job they didn’t want any role in it.”

Desbuild will hire local subcontractors to do the work in Jerusalem, Hosadurga said.

The Electronic Intifada asked Hosadurga if he had any qualms about the project given how the UN General Assembly had voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to reaffirm that Israel’s military occupation and attempts to change the status quo in the city are illegal.

“We are a government contractor. Whatever comes in our IDIQ we have to do,” Hosadurga asserted. “Our personal opinions don’t matter at all so we have to do it.”

In addition to working for the State Department, Desbuild is also a contractor for the US military.

“Glorious day”

Limak Holding is a high-profile company in Turkey. It is part of a consortium that in 2013 won a record-breaking $29 billion contract to build and operate a new Istanbul airport.

It is also building a new airport terminal and other major infrastructure projects in Kuwait.

Limak’s involvement in the embassy project would have been a major embarrassment for Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has forcefully condemned US policy on Jerusalem.

The US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May in a ceremony attended by senior US officials and Israeli leaders.

Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv fulfilled a campaign pledge by President Donald Trump to his biggest donor, the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

As the ceremony took place, Israeli soldiers were slaughtering more than 60 Palestinians amid protests in the occupied Gaza Strip as part of the ongoing Great March of Return.

Blaming both Israel and the United States, Erdogan called the killings a “genocide.”

Speaking at the embassy opening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described 14 May as a “glorious day.”

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.