Pressure Mounts on Biden Administration to Not Reopen Consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem
Israelis in large part are united in opposition to a second diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, but the US is likely to go through with it anyway, experts say
Several huge banners appeared in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv recently emblazoned with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ image and a message in both English and Hebrew opposing US President Joe Biden’s decision to reopen its consulate that deals with Palestinians living in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
“No to a Palestinian consulate. Yes to an undivided Jerusalem,” read the billboards placed by the Zionist Organization of America, which launched a billboard campaign against the planned opening of the US diplomatic mission.
Many now wonder if Biden can fulfill a campaign pledge to reopen the American Consulate in east Jerusalem. Pressure is mounting in Israel against the White House on this issue and Israeli officials vow they will do all they can to stop the US move.
Professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), a conservative think tank, told The Media Line that Israel is staunchly opposing the reopening of the diplomatic mission.
“There is no precedent in the world where a country has an embassy and opens a consulate for another country or political entity. This has simply never been done,” he said.
Inbar says such a move by the Biden administration is an encroachment on Israel’s sovereignty, as the US argues that east Jerusalem is an occupied territory and therefore, under international law, does not fall under Israeli control.
“They can think that, but for Israel it is a united city and it is in our possession. If they want to build a consulate here, they need our permission,” he said.
The consulate was ordered shut in 2018, when former US President Donald Trump ordered the embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a break with decades-old US foreign policy.
In late 2017, Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The massive signs, Inbar says, show that Israelis in large part are united when it comes to this issue.
Meanwhile, the location that the US is considering for the consulate is not even in east Jerusalem, which makes it more difficult for Israeli officials “across the political spectrum” to side with Washington, according to Inbar.
“They want to establish it on Agron Street, which is not disputed territory. Agron Street has been part of west Jerusalem and I don’t think the Americans see that,” he said.
There is no precedent in the world where a country has an embassy and opens a consulate for another country or political entity. This has simply never been done.
Inbar explains that the decision will have a negative affect on the stability of the current Israeli government.
“I doubt that the Israeli government will capitulate to the American pressure, but of course there is always a chance, and it will lead to a governmental crisis,” he predicts.
The relationship became tense last month when Israel approved plans to build thousands of new settlement homes in the West Bank.
A frustrated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the construction plans “unacceptable.”
But the pressure from Israel is not the only one Biden is facing; he is also under pressure from 35 Republican senators who have introduced a bill to prevent the US Consulate from being opened and to keep its operations strictly within the confines of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.
The harsh criticism by the Biden administration, and its condemnation, is some of the strongest against Israel in years.
Dr. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line that the issue has put “pressure” on the strategic relations between the two allies.
“The Israeli right, when it comes to issues like these, will not give up. This will create a power struggle within the government,” he said.
They don’t need approval from Israel because east Jerusalem according to the US is not part of Jerusalem. There is special status.
Ronni Shaked, coordinator of the Middle East Unit at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for The Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the Biden administration is walking a tightrope on the issue since it is serious about reopening the consulate, but also wants to “preserve” the current Israeli government and keep it intact. Shaked explains that the topic of reopening the US diplomatic mission is a “heavy” political issue.
“There is the Iranian issue that both seem to differ on slightly, and this issue that may affect the integrity of this fragile coalition. It’s a mixed bag,” he said.
The Israeli government, Shaked says, must minimize the “activities that will make the United States angry.” He says Washington will use its “power” to change policies in the region, including the reopening of its consulate.
“Of course, they have the power, and they can do it without any problems,” Shaked said, adding that Washington will not be infringing on Israel’s authority if it goes through with its decision. “They don’t need approval from Israel because east Jerusalem according to the US is not part of Jerusalem. There is special status,” he said.
Shaked is surprised at the pushback from Israeli officials because other countries have diplomatic missions in Jerusalem for the sole purpose of dealing with Palestinian affairs.
“There’s the Spanish, and British and they are not involved with Israel at all,” he said.
In the end, according to Shaked, the US will go through with its decision.
“There will be a lot of statements and anger but it’s going to happen,” he asserted.