OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Why is the US trying to open a consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians?

This new initiative, devoid of any practical utility, is all-too-reminiscent of the misadventures of the past.

The former U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, July 19, 2009. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The former U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, July 19, 2009. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein

It is frustrating to realize that even after two successive administrations (those of former President Donald Trump and his successor, U.S. President Joe Biden) have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—and the latter confirmed that the U.S. embassy, which the former moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would remain there—the State Department is still flirting with the concept of locating what amounts to a symbolic consulate to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.

This misguided effort is being pursued despite all the progress made since and as a result of the recognition, in accordance with U.S. law, of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, including the momentous Abraham Accords.

Moreover, the Oslo II Accord, signed in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28, 1995, and witnessed by then-President Bill Clinton, among others, expressly prohibits establishing a consulate for the P.A.

Article IX, Section 5a of the Oslo II Accord provides that the P.A. “ … will not have powers and responsibilities in the sphere of foreign relations, which sphere includes the establishment abroad of embassies, consulates or other types of foreign missions and posts or permitting their establishment in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the appointment of or admission of diplomatic and consular staff, and the exercise of diplomatic functions.”

Why would the State Department seek to induce a breach of Oslo II, the very basis of the two-state solution for which it so fervently advocates? Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine why anyone other than a dilettante would insist on opening a consulate dedicated to serving the P.A. in the heart of Jerusalem, in what amounts to a foreign country?

Incredibly, it would appear that the proposed consulate is intended to serve only the non-Jewish residents that the P.A. governs in the areas of Judea and Samaria that it controls. The approximately 60,000 U.S. citizens who live in Judea and Samaria (including parts of Jerusalem beyond the so-called Green Line), who are Jewish, would effectively be excluded.

Aside from this being invidious discrimination of the most sordid variety, why would the U.S. actually reward the P.A. for being judenrein—cleansed of Jews—even to the point that it imprisons Palestinians convicted of violating its noxious laws prohibiting the sale land to a Jew? Is this Jim Crow-like paradigm the State Department’s new policy of choice?

Consider, too, the anomalous character of this initiative. Last year, Congress passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, requiring the U.S. to open a consulate in Tibet. Yet to this day, there is no consulate in China-occupied Tibet serving Tibetans. Nor, for that matter, is there a consulate in Turkey serving only the Kurds; in China serving only the Uyghur Muslims; or in Myanmar serving only the Rohingya Muslims.

This is understandable, given that Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires that the consent of the receiving state be obtained before any such consulate is established. Presumably, the above states either didn’t give such consent, or a request was never made, due to an anticipated negative reaction.

Why, then, the double standard when it comes to Israel? Given that Israel has repeatedly said no, shouldn’t this end the discussion?  Indeed, it is reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Jerusalem shouldn’t host diplomatic missions that aren’t to and for Israel. He also argued that reopening the consulate—subsumed by Trump into the embassy—would “send the wrong message” to the Palestinians.

It’s worth adding here that it would also send the wrong message to the world. Since the abrupt and undignified U.S. exit from Afghanistan in August, trust in American commitments has been eroding. Just reflect on the temerity of China’s brazen and provocative incursions in Taiwanese airspace in the aftermath of the withdrawal.

September marked the first anniversary of the signing of the historic Abraham Accords. The impetus for the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to enter into those agreements was twofold: a trusted alliance with the United States, as a part of a reliable and powerful nexus with Israel, and the shared aim to deter the Iranian regime’s seeking of regional hegemony.

In this regard, the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was tangible proof that the United States could be counted on to be a loyal friend and ally. The mixed messaging of prior administrations, which sought to flirt with everyone, had created a perception that it was not a genuine friend to anyone.

This new consular initiative, devoid of any practical utility, is all-too-reminiscent of the misadventures of the past. Let’s be clear: Despite Biden’s declaration that the U.S. embassy would remain in Jerusalem, there suddenly appears to be some ambiguity on the subject of Jerusalem. No such equivocation is legally proper or desirable, however.

In 1995, Congress, virtually unanimously, passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act. It provides that Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected, and that it should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. Urging its passage, then-Sen. Biden made the following remarks on the Senate floor (Oct. 24, 1995):

“I have had the view for the past 24 years that the only way there will be peace in the Middle East is for the Arabs to know there is no division between the United States and Israel—none, zero, none …

“Those familiar, and all are on this floor, with the Jewish people know the central meaning that the ancient city of Jerusalem has for Jews everywhere. Time and again, empires have tried to sever the umbilical cord that unites Jews with their capital.

“They have destroyed the temple. They have banished the Jews from living in Jerusalem. They have limited the number of Jews allowed to immigrate to that city. And, finally, in this century, they tried simply to eliminate Jews.

“They may have succeeded, Mr. President, in destroying physical structures and lives. But they have never succeeded in wholly eliminating Jewish presence in Jerusalem, or in cutting the spiritual bond between Jews and their cherished capital.

“After the horrific events of the Holocaust, the Jewish people returned to claim what many rulers have tried to deny them for centuries: The right to peaceful existence in their own country in their own capital.

“How many of us can forget that poignant photograph of an unnamed Israeli soldier breaking down in tears and prayer as he reached the Western Wall after his army liberated the eastern half of the city in the Six-Day War?

“Those tears told a story. A story of a people long denied their rightful place among nations. A people denied access to their most hallowed religious sites. A people who had finally, after long tribulation, come home.

“Mr. President, it is unconscionable for us to refuse to recognize the right of the Jewish people to choose their own capital. What gives us the right to second-guess their decision? For 47 years, we, and much of the rest of the international community, have been living a lie.

“For 47 years, Israel has had its government offices, its parliament, and its national monuments in Jerusalem, not in Tel Aviv. And yet, nearly all embassies are located in Tel Aviv. I think this is a denial of fundamental reality.

“Mr. President, are we, through the continued sham of maintaining our Embassy in Tel Aviv, to refuse to acknowledge what the Jewish people know in their hearts to be true? Regardless of what others may think, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

“And Israel is not just any old country. It is a vital strategic ally.

“As the Israelis and Palestinians begin the final status negotiations in May 1996—negotiations, I might add, that were made possible through the leadership of President Clinton—it should be clear to all that the United States stands squarely behind Israel, our close friend and ally.

“Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will send the right signal, not a destructive signal. To do less would be to play into the hands of those who will try their hardest to deny Israel the full attributes of statehood.

“I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

The prescient wisdom embodied in these plain-spoken and forthright words requires no further explanation; they have proven true. The extraordinary progress made with the Abraham Accords is a testament to their veracity, as is the exciting prospect of further agreements being made, expanding the circle of peace.

It took the efforts of many enlightened members of the Senate and House of Representatives, including Sen. Jon Kyl (now retired) and then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (now governor of Florida), interested in doing what was right and just, to bring this vision of U.S. recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to fruition.

It was Trump who finally determined to end the useless and counterproductive practice of presidential waivers and issued the executive branch’s formal recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the embassy there.

It’s now indisputably U.S. law that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. This new attempt to infringe on the sovereign status of Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel and thereby diminish its legitimacy is baffling.

Why engage in frivolous machinations like setting up a symbolic consulate in Jerusalem to service a foreign non-state? Besides being an absurd and irresponsible way of making a point, it’s also illegal under U.S. and international law. It also flies in the face of the president’s previous words and the sentiment of the current Senate, which by an overwhelming, nearly unanimous, vote (97 to 3), reaffirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Yet, the State Department doyens insist on this kind of game-playing and resort to cunning ploys, as a means of expressing their continued adherence to failed policies that should have been discarded long ago.

Israel is a loyal friend and vital strategic ally of the United States. Diminishing it or sending mixed signals serves no useful purpose; it only tarnishes the prestige of the United States.

It’s time to end this unrealistic and, frankly, dangerous ploy. There is no genuinely rational or constructive reason to impinge on the legitimacy of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Indeed, as history has demonstrated in no uncertain terms, this kind of ambivalent policy only causes confusion and raises unrealistic expectations that serve to prevent, not enhance, the prospects for peace.

Let’s continue to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and build on that solid foundation to bring peace and prosperity to the region and beyond. As God says in the Bible (Numbers 24:9): “Blessed is everyone who blesses you, O Israel.”

Farley Weiss, former president of the National Council of Young Israel, is an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy. The views expressed are the author’s, and not necessarily representative of NCYI.

Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and Israel Discount Bank of New York. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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