A group of more than 100 Israelis gathered on Agron Street in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday, opposite the old U.S. consulate building, protesting the Biden administration’s announced plan to reopen it as a full diplomatic mission for the Palestinian Authority within Israel’s capital.

The event was organized by Israel’s “Sovereignty Movement” with about 20 other pro-Israel NGOs serving as co-sponsors. They believe that the establishment of a P.A. consulate in Jerusalem would amount to a de facto partition of the city and transform it into a Palestinian capital.

In May, JNS reported that during a meeting with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that America would reopen the consulate, making good on an earlier campaign pledge by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Under former President Donald Trump, in 2018 the U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem merged into the U.S. embassy, which was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as Trump implemented Congress’ Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 recognizing a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and stating that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city.”

Recent media reports indicate that Blinken might try to fulfill Biden’s pledge in the near future, either with Israel’s approval or perhaps unilaterally. Such an action without Israel’s consent would appear to violate Israeli, U.S. and international law.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, head of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum think tank, explained to JNS earlier in the day that “the U.S. wants to open the consulate as a way of turning the clock back to before the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and while this would not completely undo the recognition, this would basically create a parallel acknowledgment of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, thus undoing the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s sole and exclusive capital.”

The U.S. Consulate on Agron Street in Central Jerusalem on March 4, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Kontorovich said the old U.S. consulate, opened in 1844 during the Ottoman Empire, wasn’t established as a diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, “but this one is being created to have a representative office to the Palestinians—not in Ramallah, but in Jerusalem.”

He added that under that new reality, the U.S. consul general would not report to the U.S. ambassador to Israel, but directly to the State Department, sending the message that Jerusalem isn’t really part of Israel.

‘A hostile act’

Nadia Matar, co-chair of the Sovereignty Movement with Yehudit Katzover, told JNS that after exploration of the proposed consulate opening for the Palestinians, her organization understood that the intention wasn’t “to open a branch for consular services; there is something much deeper behind it. The purpose is to erase everything Trump did before and to divide Jerusalem in order to create a Palestinian state while declaring that Jerusalem is also the capital of Palestine.”

She said “when we realized that, ‘there was no way that we could stay silent’—we have to try and prevent it. At this moment, the Israeli government opposes the opening of a consulate, and we are here to give them the strength to continue to oppose it.”

A demonstrator stands across from the old U.S. consulate in Jerusalem opposes efforts by the Biden administration to reopen it for Palestinian use, Oct. 27, 2021 Photo by Josh Hasten.

Matar added that keeping Jerusalem united is a consensus issue in the Israeli government, as it was with previous governments, including those led by former prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin.

She said she views what’s going on as “a hostile act by the Biden administration against the people of Israel, a trampling of our sovereignty and contempt for the will of the majority of the Jewish people in Israel who oppose the division of Jerusalem and oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and a vice president of Republicans Overseas, Inc., addressed the crowd and told JNS that while the protest was in front of the former consulate, “the most important message should be directed towards the Israeli government: ‘You have all the authority to say no to the Americans.’ ”

He added: “This is not in the interest of Israel, of the Jewish people or the millions of people around the world who love Israel. Jerusalem needs to remain united. Reopening the Consulate General means abandoning Jerusalem. We cannot let that happen, and the power to say ‘no’ is with [Prime Minister] Naftali Bennett, his coalition and the government of Israel.”

‘A prize to terrorism’

Naomi Kahn, director of the international division of Regavim, another sponsor, told JNS that her organization’s message was “we don’t agree to allow foreign governments, even if they are allies, to dictate Israeli policy, to divide Jerusalem or to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Similar to Zell, Kahn added that the ball is really in Israel’s court over this issue.

Eytan Meir, head of the international division of Im Tirtzu, yet another co-sponsor, told JNS that “when you have a consulate serving a foreign entity in the heart of your capital, it symbolizes that your city is not unified and shows that it is in America’s plans to cut it in half. Furthermore, we’re not even talking about ‘eastern Jerusalem’; this is western Jerusalem.”

He added that “establishing a consulate here would give a prize to terrorism, and reward Palestinian intransigence and their stance of constantly saying no to peace. This is not what real friends do. If you are a real friend, you should respect your friend’s authority and sovereignty over its territory.”

JNS

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