A diplomatic confrontation between the U.S. and Israel is brewing over the Biden administration’s insistence on opening a consulate in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, specifically to conduct diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority.
This is unprecedented. Since 2018, the U.S. has had an embassy in Jerusalem to handle all diplomatic contacts, including with the Palestinians. While Washington has only one embassy in the capital of any foreign country, in larger countries it may have several consulates located outside the capital serving as embassy branches performing similar jobs.
According to established international law (1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations), embassies and consulates can only be established with the approval of the host country, in this case, Israel.
In October, over Israel’s clear objection, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken stated publicly, “We’ll be moving forward with … opening a consulate as part of deepening … ties with the Palestinians.”
The Biden administration claims that they just want to open a consulate in Israel’s capital to handle diplomatic initiatives and encourage Palestinian leadership to work with Israel toward a two-state solution to their conflict with the Jewish state.
In reality, Biden is creating a de facto U.S. embassy for the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Allowing the U.S. to establish a separate consulate in its capital city dedicated solely to Palestinians when there is a functioning American embassy calls into question Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh understands the symbolic implications and boasted that the new consulate will re-divide Jerusalem and is a path to recognizing Palestinian sovereignty in Israel’s capital. The liberal think tank Israel Policy Forum acknowledged that opening the consulate would “reflect U.S. recognition of the Palestinian desire to have a capital there.”
Jew-hating Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are pushing hard for this new consulate because they understand the obvious.
The consulate plan is an effort to undermine former President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel without paying the political price of reversing this policy. Additionally, this U.S. move signals to the Palestinians that recalcitrance, resistance and terror are acceptable and rewarded.
Aryeh Lightstone, chief of staff to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman commented, “The (Arab) Abraham Accords countries are not asking for this. Egypt and Jordan are not. The PA leadership — who still pays people to kill Jews — why their opinion matters at all is beyond common sense.”
The U.S. did have a consulate in Jerusalem during the Ottoman Empire. This never needed Israel’s approval, as it predated the establishment of the Jewish state and today’s international law requiring Israel’s consent for any diplomatic mission to be opened on its territory.
After the Oslo Accords, with the American embassy and other embassies located in Tel Aviv, this U.S. consulate in Jerusalem served only the Palestinians.
When former President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and moved the U.S. embassy there, he implemented the dormant Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed with massive bipartisan support, which explicitly states, "Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel." It provides that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city,” but allowed previous presidents the discretion to postpone moving our embassy there.
In 2019, President Trump officially consolidated all diplomatic and consular services in the new American embassy in Jerusalem and created a Palestinian Affairs Unit at the embassy for liaison with the Palestinians.
When asked whether international law requires the Biden administration to have the approval of the Israeli government to open a Jerusalem consulate for Palestinians, a State Department representative responded, “We need the consent of the host government to open any diplomatic facility.”
Mr. Blinken recently created a joint American-Israeli committee on the issue. Worried about confronting their most important ally, Israeli leadership agreed to participate. But, with Israelis across the political spectrum strongly opposed to the Biden move, it is hard to imagine that their government will acquiesce to American demands.
Even if the rejection of a Palestinian consulate in Israel’s capital incites antisemitism around the world, Israel necessarily must oppose this policy.
Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have forcefully rejected the Biden plan, as has the opposition Likud Party. “There is no room for an American consulate in Jerusalem that serve the Palestinian population. ... Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone,” said Bennett.
According to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, “If America wants to signal increased engagement with the Palestinians, something short of a consulate located in Ramallah might be appropriate.”
An office in Ramallah would be far more accessible for Palestinians and their leadership. In fact, Ireland, China, Argentina, and Austria, among others, all have a “representative office” in Ramallah to engage with the Palestinians.
The aspirations of Palestinian leadership to destroy the Jewish state were dealt a severe blow by the 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab neighbors and by Washington’s unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Both reaffirm the Jewish people's indigenous roots in the land of Israel, including Jerusalem, and create a historic paradigm shift in the region —the end of a long-standing indulgence by their Arab brothers of Palestinian refusal to make peace. This new dynamic is the best hope for an eventual rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Biden’s return to policies that have failed repeatedly is very telling in the Middle East where such abject appeasement by a superpower broadcasts weakness and invites aggression.
President Biden still has a chance to correct this misguided policy, allowing it to die a quiet death via the joint committee established to discuss the plan.
Robert Gates, Obama's former Defense Secretary, memorably wrote that Joe Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." Let’s hope Biden does not add this one to his quiver of failures. And that’s not hyperbole.
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Ziva writes and lectures about U.S.-Israel relations, U.S. foreign policy, Israel, Zionism, Antisemitism and BDS on college campuses. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Hill, New York Daily News, New York Observer, The Washington Times, American Spectator, American Thinker and Jerusalem Post. Read Ziva Dahl's Reports — More Here.
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