Israeli coalition split on US plans to reopen consulate for Palestinians

Reopening the American consulate for Palestinian affairs in Jerusalem is increasingly becoming a disagreement point, not only between Israel and the US, but also within Israeli politics and inside the coalition. Interviewed by the army radio station Nov. 10, Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas said, “The United States has already recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, so it would be appropriate to have a balancing act. If this step contributes to establishing peace, then all the better.”

Abbas’ statement comes only four days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid presented a united front against such a move.

Speaking to the media on Nov. 6, Bennett said that “there is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem.” Bennett said that this position had been conveyed to Washington both by himself and by Lapid, adding, “We are expressing our position consistently, quietly and without drama, and I hope it is understood. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone.”

Lapid expressed a similar position, stating, “If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that…. Sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country alone, the State of Israel.”

Bennett and Lapid were talking to the press after the approval of the 2021-2022 state budget. Lapid was asked if the ensuing political stability from that vote would encourage the government to take on more sensitive issues, such as the US Jerusalem consulate. Rejecting that notion, Lapid said, “It’s not a question of politics. It’s an Israeli objection on principle for opening a consulate in Jerusalem. There’s an American embassy [here].”

Unlike several European countries, the US does not have an office in Ramallah. Unnamed Israeli officials later said Lapid was referring to the idea of opening a liaison office in Ramallah, not an official consulate.

President Joe Biden had pledged to reopen the Jerusalem consulate, which was shut under the Trump administration. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has reiterated this commitment on more than one occasion. Speaking at a Washington news conference Oct. 13 with visiting Lapid and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Blinken said, “We’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening of those ties with the Palestinians.”

Still, Blinken did not set a date for the reopening. According to publications, in contacts with Jerusalem, Washington had discreetly agreed to hold off the issue until after the Knesset approved the budget.

In fact, publications in the Israeli press Oct. 17 claimed that in one of their first phone calls, Lapid had offered Blinken his preliminary commitment the US would be able to reopen the consulate. Associates of Lapid rejected these assertions at the time.

Knesset members of the Arab Joint List, an opposition party, sent Blinken a letter on the issue Sept. 20. The legislators argued that despite opposition from Israel, it is important to stake such a step “to create the right conditions for a meaningful peace process.” They added that such a move would will be in line with the administration’s “stated position that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, dignity, and prosperity.”

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