“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand cease to function. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!” (Psalm 137:5-6) As much as Jews and Christians have in common, there’s no place that’s more central to Jews and Christians than Jerusalem. It’s the city of the Kings, Prophets and where Jesus preached, worshipped, and was crucified. As central as Jerusalem is to our history and our faith, Jerusalem is facing a threat to be redivided today, a threat to Israel’s sovereignty. Sadly, the threat is not from one of our enemies.
From the 1840’s, the US had a consulate in Jerusalem, then under the Ottoman Empire. When Israel declared independence, and Jerusalem as its capital in 1948, the Consulate became a US diplomatic outpost in Israeli Jerusalem, but not its embassy. That was established in Tel Aviv because the US did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite the 3000-year-old Biblical history, and as modern Israel’s seat of government.
The 1995 US Embassy Act was a bipartisan law, supported overwhelmingly by the US Congress. It declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital, that Jerusalem “should remain an undivided city,” and that the US was required to move its embassy there. Because of a clause that allowed all successive presidents to defer doing so, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem didn’t take place until 2018. Then, the consulate that had been operating as a separate entity was closed, and its work was merged into that of the embassy. So, what’s the problem?
First, at the risk of overstating the obvious, Jerusalem is and has been the heart and center of Biblical Israel, the Jewish people, and modern Israel for over 3000 years. Jerusalem is mentioned over 600 times in the Bible, and zero times in the Koran.
The stand-alone consulate was grandfathered in when Israel restored sovereignty, and when Israel reunited Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. But US policy remained schizophrenic: supporting Israel but not Israeli authority in Jerusalem. The consulate became a diplomatic office to “the West Bank” and, at the time of the US Embassy Act, a diplomatic office to the newly created Palestinian Authority, (PA).
Years ago, I was in touch with successive US diplomats posted to the US Consulate in Jerusalem. Because I live in the Judean mountains, over the Green Line from what was Israeli territory before 1967, also pejoratively referred to as “the West Bank,” there were diplomats assigned to get the pulse of, and report back on, life on the ground. Some in my neighborhood refer to them pejoratively as “spied,” however I proactively hosted a number of these diplomats at my home, and offered tours and insight about modern Jewish life in Judea. Invariably, the same diplomats would visit me either on the way to or from visiting Palestinian Arab communities nearby with the same agenda to understand and file reports.
In addition to being invited to the US Embassy Independence Day celebration, for several years I was invited to the US Consulate’s parallel celebration on another day. What was fascinating about the later is that in addition to Jewish (“settler”) leaders invited from “the West Bank,” Palestinian Arab leaders were also invited. One year, I found myself within meters of then PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. For people supposedly not able to live together, we coexisted just fine in the Consulate’s backyard.
I thought it would be novel to have a conversation and get a picture with him. I usually don’t do such things because photos with “important” people don’t make me feel important, as much as affirmation that we were in the same place.
Despite Fayyad’s role in promoting and funding terror, I felt that for him, it would be bad, even dangerous, to have even an innocuous picture with a “settler” floating around social media. Some people I know have posted such pictures showing “coexistence,” only to lead to threats to the Arabs by other Palestinian Arabs. So, I chose not to do so. You’re welcome Mr. Fayyad.
The US Consulate is closed, and presumably the US can find another venue to celebrate its independence with Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israeli “settlers.” But now, the Biden Administration wants to reopen the consulate as its diplomatic office to the PA, in the same building in central Jerusalem that is part of sovereign Israel where I almost met Fayyad. Such a move is unprecedented, with one nation having a diplomatic office to another entity in the capital of a third nation. It also contradicts American law.
Opening a US Consulate to the PA in Jerusalem is a dangerous precedent and not only will not bring peace, but push peace further out of reach. Recognizing Palestinian Authority sovereignty over any of Jerusalem presupposes the outcome of negotiations that ought to be resolved between the parties. Even if the tried-and-failed “two state solution” is the default US position, setting up a consulate to the PA in western Jerusalem contradicts that. As a unilateral move, it would embolden the Palestinian Authority and terrorists within it, by showing Palestinian Arabs that they can win major concessions without negotiating, ceasing terror, or any sincerity on their part.
There’s a theory that the US has waited to strong-arm Israel until after Israel passed its state budget this week, at the risk of pressuring Israel on something so divisive, and which could jeopardize the government’s survival. However, pushing Israel hard on abdicating sovereignty over part of Jerusalem (certainly outside actual negotiations between the parties) would risk the same result as pushing before a budget is passed: the potential fall of Israel’s government: a bloodless coup.
Both Prime Minister Bennet and Foreign Minister Lapid have declared clearly that they will not support this US attempt. Technically, that should be enough to block it. But nobody knows what form of pressure the US may bring on the issue.
There are a variety of US domestic issues at play as well, from some wanting to undo anything that Donald Trump did as president, even if it was positive, to Democrats pandering to the anti-Israel extremists in their own party a year away from mid-term elections. It’s also possible that the US is upping the ante vis a vis the consulate to win concessions from Israel on other issues, specifically relating to Iran.
A US Senate bill has been proposed to prevent the opening of a separate consulate in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, unlike the 1995 law that was overwhelmingly bipartisan, this bill is only supported by Republicans, as of now. If the US wants to have a diplomatic office to the PA, it should be in Ramallah along with 39 other countries whose diplomatic offices are there.
You can hear more about these and other related issues at this informative podcast conversation.
Scripture reminds us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Shalom, peace in Hebrew, comes from the same root as “shalem” which means “whole.” It is also the central to the name Jeru-SALEM. So, when you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, please pray that the American effort to redivide Jerusalem will fail. Pray for Jerusalem to remain whole, under Jewish and Israeli sovereignty. You can put action behind your prayers by signing this petition to the Biden Administration to cease its pressuring Israel to open a consulate to the PA in Jerusalem.