The US has asked Israel to allow the reopening of the U.S. consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem as part of the process to promote normalization between Israel and Riyadh. This is what Israel today learned from political sources.
Until 2019, the consulate operated from the American compound on Agron Street in the capital, and effectively served as an American embassy for Palestinians from West Jerusalem. The Trump administration closed the site as part of the process of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the American embassy to the city. It should be noted that according to diplomatic protocol, it is not possible to operate in the capital of a host country, both a consulate and an embassy. In addition, since 2018, Israel has refused to approve the opening of consulates of foreign countries in Jerusalem, with the aim of having those countries move their embassies to the city or open an embassy branch there.
It's time to say goodbye: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides ends his term // Credit: U.S. Embassy in Israel
In his first year in office, President Biden and his administration put great pressure on Israeli governments to reopen the consulate. Initially, the pressure was directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu, who instructed then-National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israel's ambassador to Washington at the time, Gilad Erdan, to reject the demand. Instead of reopening the compound in central Jerusalem, which politically means a Palestinian foothold in the capital, Netanyahu offered the Americans Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem's municipal area. The Americans and Palestinians rejected the proposal because it was clear that its symbolic significance was to push the status of the Palestinians out of Israel's capital.
After the change of government in Israel in June 2021, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett publicly announced that he rejected the request out of hand. Then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid initially agreed to the American demand, but later toed the line with Bennett. Due to the Biden administration's desire to maintain good relations with the government at the time, the issue was effectively dropped from the agenda. Instead of opening the consulate, the Americans upgraded the status of the "Palestinian Department" at the embassy in Jerusalem, saying it would operate independently and not subordinate to the ambassador. However, due to Israel's refusal to accept the request and sign the relevant documents, the administration was unable to reopen the consulate.
Oppose the move. Bennett as Prime Minister and then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Photo: Jonathan Zindel/Flash90
Israel Hayom has learned that recently, as normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia progressed, the issue returned to the table. At this stage, it is unclear whether the Saudis are behind the demand on behalf of the Palestinians, or whether the Americans are doing so on their own initiative. In an interview with Fox News last week, the Saudi crown prince refrained from making political demands on behalf of the PA, saying that his expectation was only to "make life easier for the Palestinians." Israel had previously claimed that the Americans were making difficulties on the Palestinian issue more than the Saudis.
It should be noted that on both the right and in the Likud, many opposed the reopening of the American consulate in Jerusalem, due to the political significance of the move. The leader of the resistance is the former mayor of Jerusalem, the current economy minister, Nir Barkat. Barkat embarked on two campaigns in Washington in which he persuaded members of Congress and senators to oppose the reopening of the consulate. In addition, while in opposition, he initiated a law prohibiting the opening of consulates in the capital.
"The step of establishing a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem means recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The government's agreement to this move is disastrous and will harm Jerusalem. I intend to fight vigorously against the dangerous decision to establish the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. We will not allow the government to make Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. This is a red line that must not be crossed. Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel for all eternity," Barkat said at the time. At this stage, it is unknown what Israel's response to the request presented by the Americans was.
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