What seemed a few months ago like just another whim of the overzealous “New Guard” now running the U.S. State Department seems today like a determined effort to take Israel down a peg.
Since day one, the new administration has talked about reestablishing warm relations with the Palestinian Authority by reopening its Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. Ha, ha, very funny, thought many of us: There’s no state of Palestine, Jerusalem is the U.S.-recognized capital of Israel, the Palestinians are still paying terrorists to kill Israelis—this idea will vaporize in a few months.
But it didn’t, and now State Department functionaries are ratcheting up pressure on Israel. So far, Israel’s leaders have firmly (but no doubt politely) refused.
Jerusalem is arguably the most contentious issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is a highly symbolic city for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but despite being ruled by the latter for almost 1,300 years, no Muslim ruler ever made it a capital and most left it in disrepair, a neglected backwater.
For Jews, Jerusalem has been their revered capital for thousands of years. It is the focal point of prayer—mentioned during many festive and lifecycle occasions. Every inch of Jerusalem—east, west, north and south—has Jewish history still being discovered just below the surface.
For decades, the United States understood well the position that Jerusalem was the indivisible capital of Jerusalem. With the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by an overwhelming majority of both parties in both houses, Jerusalem was officially recognized as the capital of the State of Israel—and was to remain an undivided city.
It took the United States decades to implement that law, but former President Donald Trump made it official in 2018. So, why is President Joe Biden’s team seeking to undo this bipartisan and longstanding position?
Indeed, the Biden State Department appears hell-bent on changing U.S. policy. Its persistence in trying to open a new diplomatic office in Jerusalem that would serve the stateless Palestinians appears to be the first salvo in a strike by the administration to extort Israel’s new government and symbolically divide the Jewish state’s capital city.
Following the Trump administration directive in 2018, the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This embassy services Jews and Arabs, both Israelis and those who define themselves as Palestinians.
There is absolutely no practical reason to open a consulate for Palestinians. According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relationships, a diplomatic mission serves to represent the sending state in the receiving state; protect the interests of the sending state in the receiving state; negotiate with the receiving state; promote friendly relations with the receiving state; and develop their economic, cultural and scientific relations.
None of these things are possible in this case, because the Palestinians do not have a state, and Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory.
Rather, the State Department seems to want to recognize Palestinian claims to the city and place its division back on the table. If State is thinking practically—rather than politically—they could open a mission in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority resides—a scant 11.5 miles from Jerusalem—or Abu Dis, a Palestinian village just outside Jerusalem. When foreign dignitaries today meet with Palestinian officials like Mahmoud Abbas, they go to Ramallah.
Opening a new consulate for the Palestinians on Israeli territory would be a blow to Israel’s prestige, standing and sovereignty. Even Israel’s biggest critics on the international stage have not dared to open a new consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians. While some European nations do have consulates that cater to Palestinians in the city, they predated the Jewish state.
Many of those in the Biden administration and on the radical left know well that while the consulate is unnecessary, it would be a hugely symbolic blow to Israel. Not only would it place Jerusalem back on the negotiating table—and de facto recognize Palestinian claims to the city—it would symbolize the Jewish state’s subservience.
However, neither the United States (nor any other nation) can open a diplomatic mission without the Israeli government’s permission. Indeed, both Israel’s current ruling coalition and opposition parties oppose the new consulate, and both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have expressed their robust objection.
The only hope the United States has to open the consulate is to strong-arm or bully Israel. While it is conceivably possible to open a mission, a host country has to agree to many bureaucratic and administrative measures—such as providing visas to officials who work there, beefing up security around the premises and agreeing to work with it on a day-to-day basis on diplomatic and consular issues.
Thus, while Israel itself should resist the opening of the consulate, all Americans who regard the State of Israel as a friend and an ally should call on the administration to end this pressure on the Jewish state. They should call out the tiny but vocal extreme minority in the Democratic Party that sees this issue as a weak spot for undermining Israel, claiming the move is merely a bureaucratic necessity—which it clearly isn’t.
In fact, opening a consulate would be the first step toward full recognition of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. As Israel’s seat of government, removing a chunk of it will merely embolden the Palestinians.
When the Jewish state feels most isolated and threatened, as it did during the Obama administration, Iran raced ahead in its nuclear-weapons program, and Hamas and Hezbollah gathered strength. Abbas sat recalcitrant in Ramallah and watched mounting pressure on Israel, firm in the knowledge that he did not have to move an inch. The policy may have been a diplomatic failure for the United States, but it was a dangerous and bloody time for Israelis—the effects of which are still felt.
If Biden indeed considers himself a friend of Israel, as he often states, then he must resist pressure from within his administration to open this consulate in Jerusalem.
While some may see it as a relatively minor issue, for Israel it appears to be the start of negating Israel’s claims to Jerusalem—erasing thousands of years of Jewish attachment to the city, a creeping recognition of Palestinian claims, and a message that the United States and Israel no longer stand side by side. In short, it would be a disaster for both nations.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.