Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, formerly political opponents, closed ranks to oppose the Biden administration’s plan to open a consulate to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.
Speaking at a media event on Saturday night after the approval of the state budget for 2021-2022, Bennett was unequivocal in his opposition to the plan.
“There is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Bennett said, noting that Lapid was in agreement. “We are expressing our position consistently, quietly and without drama, and I hope it is understood. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone.”
“If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah we have no problem with that,” Lapid added, emphasizing that “sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country — Israel.”
“It’s not a question of politics,” Lapid added. “It’s an Israeli objection on principle for opening a consulate in Jerusalem. There’s an American embassy [here].”
This was emphasized last week by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Matt McKeon in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The main purpose of this consulate—and the main reason we want to use the one on Agron Road—is that [it] is the mechanism through which we have engaged the Palestinians in the past and for well over a century before it was closed,” McKeon said. “That’s what’s driving our decision-making on that.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) responded that opening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem would likely violate the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted for. The act states that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel. He also cited a recent video where the Palestinian Authority said the purpose of putting an embassy in Jerusalem was to divide the city.
“So the Palestinian Authority wants the U.S. government to do this,” stated Zeldin. “Their intent, their purpose, their motivation is to divide Jerusalem.”
It is unclear whether it is legal by Israeli, US, or international law for the US to open a diplomatic mission against the expressed wishes of the sovereign government. In addition, many Israelis believe the opening of the consulate would encourage Palestinian terrorism.
The issue of the consulate is just one piece in the growing divide between the current White House administration and Israel. Just two weeks ago, the State Department rebuked Israel for branding six NGOs as terror groups after it was discovered they had deep ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israel claims that it has proof that while claiming to serve humanitarian functions, the organizations in fact funneled foreign funds to the terrorist organization.
At the same time, the State Department condemned Israel for its recently published plans to allow Jews to build several housing units in Judea and Samaria, a region the Biden administration would like to reserve for a Palestinian state that is ethnically cleansed of Jews.
Another rift is the efforts by the Biden administration to reinstate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The JCPOA, brokered by President Obama and finalized in 2015, will allow Iran to engage in a nuclear weapons program beginning in 2025. Under allegations that Iran was not abiding by its obligations, President Trump withdrew the US from the agreement. Despite Iranian reticence, the Biden administration is struggling to reengage some form of the agreement.
On Saturday, Nikki Haley, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations warned that Israel should not rely on the US to protect its security interests regarding Iran.
“If Israel makes the grave decision that its security depends on removing that threat, it should not wait for an American green light,” she said Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting. “In matters of life and death, it is better to be strong and criticized than weak and ignored.”
She added, “If a politician supports the disastrous Iran deal, opposes moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and is embraced by anti-Semites who support the [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement, then a pro-Israel group should have absolutely nothing to do with him or her.”