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“No” from Israel to U.S. Opening Consulate Serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem

posted on: Nov 16, 2021

U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem–to serve West Bank Palestinians–now closed. Photo Chicago WGN9

By John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

The Israeli prime minister has halted the Biden administration’s decision to restart the consulate in East Jerusalem to serve West Bank Palestinians. Closed by the Trump administration, this consulate is symbolically important to Palestinians because it recognizes their right to a slice of Jerusalem real estate.

Israel puts foot down on reopening the U.S. consulate

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has rendered a definitive “no” to fulfilling U.S. President Biden’s campaign to reopen the U.S. consulate to Palestinians. Bennett supposedly told a visiting team of U.S. congressional Democrats, according to the Times of Israel, that the “reopening of mission to Palestinians is unacceptable.” Important to this story is that it was the Trump administration that had closed the consulate to begin with—mainly to please U.S. Christian evangelical voters and the Israeli government of Netanyahu.

President Biden had wanted to reopen the consulate to serve Palestinians in the West Bank. While Bennett’s government is determined to keep the consulate closed, “The disagreement has the potential to turn into a genuine crisis.” Israel has always viewed the consulate in East Jerusalem as “a nemesis and an advocate for the agenda of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.”

“No” from Israel to U.S. Opening Consulate Serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem
U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem stood as a brick-and-mortar symbol of America’s refusal to accept Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem or to formally recognize it as Israel’s capital. Photo The Jerusalem Post

Furthermore, the Israeli government has seen the consulate as a “de facto U.S. embassy to the Palestinians, [and] the consulate also stood as a brick-and-mortar symbol of America’s refusal to accept Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem or to formally recognize it as Israel’s capital.” Closure of the consulate by Trump was a response to Israel’s assertion that Jerusalem is a united city over which it has jurisdiction. That prompted the U.S. to move the capital of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While Biden is a “friend of Israel,” he was no friend to his predecessor’s policy towards Jerusalem. Reopening the consulate appeared to be Biden’s gesture to the Palestinians of his support and to express disagreement with Trump’s policy towards the Palestinians and Jerusalem. PM Naftali Bennett’s decision was based on his opinion that “there is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem.” Furthermore, his foreign minister voiced that “If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problems with that.

Political dissent in U.S. adds to the opposition to reopening consulate

While a large majority of Israeli Jews view Jerusalem as their sovereign capital, about 200 Republican members of the U.S. Congress agree. They have protested reopening the consulate in East Jerusalem in a letter. Even some Democrat self-proclaimed Zionists are against the consulate. According to Bloomberg news, these Democrats “have pro-Israel constituents and donors who will not take kindly to an attempt to force an unwanted consulate on Israel.”

The politics of the question of a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem prompted two key Democratic senators and friends of Biden to visit Israel with Congressional delegations. Senators Cardin and Coons are there, according to Bloomberg news, to take “Israel’s temperature on the Jerusalem question and looking for a solution that does not lead to a public spat between Israel and the Biden administration.”

“No” from Israel to U.S. Opening Consulate Serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem
Israeli Jews protest opening of U.S. consulate for West Bank Palestinians Photo Breitbart.com

PM Bennett also, it seems, doesn’t want to make a scene over the consulate questions. He is quoted as saying he “planned to avoid ‘drama’ over the consulate question [but] that won’t be easy — the future of Jerusalem has excited drama for two millennia.” Bennet is assuming that because Biden has so much on his plate, domestically and internationally, that he won’t want “to add a contentious dispute with Israel over Jerusalem to his to-do list.”

Palestinians claim Biden doesn’t need permission to reopen the consulate

“The United States does not need Israel’s ‘permission’ to reopen its consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” the Palestinian prime minister said, according to Agence France Presse (AFP). The U.S. mission was situated in West Jerusalem but included a consular services office in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist is the capital of their future state.

In response to the Israeli foreign minister’s response that placing a U.S. consulate in Ramallah would be fine, a Palestinian spokesman said, “Ramallah is not Jerusalem, and Ramallah is not the capital of Palestine.” The spokesman also noted, “It is our hope that what (the US) promised will be fulfilled,” though then suggesting that we know that “Bennett is a hawk who opposes Palestinian statehood.”

“No” from Israel to U.S. Opening Consulate Serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has objected strenuously to the closure of the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem Photo UPI

An argument against the U.S. plan for its consulate, cited in AFP, is that “it would be seen to strengthen Palestinian claims to the contested holy city — a position that would alienate his [Bennet’s] right-wing allies, possibly unsettling his ideologically disparate eight-party coalition.” As usual when it comes to politics, the Palestinian people always seem to get the short end of the stick. So, this, as is said, not the first time and won’t be the last.

References

–“Israel won’t let US open Jerusalem consulate, Bennett said to tell visiting Dems,” Times of Israel, 11/11/2021
–“East Jerusalem Consulate Is a Fight Biden Doesn’t Need,” Bloomberg, 11/11/ 2021
–“US doesn’t need Israeli permission to open consulate: Palestinians,” Agence Presse France, 11/10/2021

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, Department of State, and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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