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US, ‘Israel’ to form joint team on opening consulate for Palestinians

The US and ‘Israel’ are reportedly planning to form a joint team tasked with resolving a growing dispute over the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The joint team will be led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli occupation Foreign Minister Lapid, along with one or two senior aides from both sides, according to a Wednesday Axios report.

Blinken proposed the idea during a meeting with Lapid in Washington last week, when Biden’s plan to reopen what historically served as the de facto representative mission to the Palestinians was raised.

According to Axios, Lapid warned Blinken that US plans to move forward could risk toppling the Israeli occupation government, which includes right-wing parties that may not be willing to swallow such a move.

They argue that the reopening of a US consulate in Jerusalem that does not serve Israelis will lead other countries to do the same, thus damaging Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

“I don’t know how to hold this coalition together if you reopen the consulate,” Lapid told Blinken last week, according to Axios.

Blinken told Lapid that he recognized the political sensitivity of the move and said that the goal of the joint team would be for the sides to hold negotiations on the consulate in a discreet fashion aimed at preventing the matter from turning into a larger diplomatic incident, Axios said.

While Blinken notified ‘Israel’ of Biden’s plan to reopen the consulate in May, Washington subsequently agreed to hold off on the move until after the new government passes a budget next month, in order to give it a chance to stabilize.

Lapid asked Blinken to hold off on convening the joint team until after the budget passed, Axios reported.

“Inherent in the request to hold off on the reopening was a recognition that we would still move forward eventually,” one US source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel earlier this year.

A spokesman for Lapid said the joint team had not yet been established.

This week, sources with ties to the White House told the Palestinian Al-Quds daily that Washington is planning to go ahead with the opening of its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem “shortly” after the state budget is passed next month, in other words as soon as either November or early December.

In the first stage, the White House plans to reach an agreement with ‘Israel on the issue, according to the sources.

Should those efforts fail, the government could take the unilateral step of reopening the consulate once the budget has passed and the government is likely to remain stable.

Blinken announced lately that Washington will be moving forward with its plan of reopening its consulate which served Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“We’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” Blinken stated at the State Department as speaking to the press after hosting a trilateral meeting with Israeli occupation Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Last May, the Biden administration announced that the U.S. would be reopening the Consulate General in Jerusalem that handled relations with the Palestinians.

Biden said he would keep the US embassy in Jerusalem “to engage the Palestinians.”

The consulate dates back to 1844 and served for 25 years as the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians.

However, in 2018, outgoing President Donald Trump merged the consulate into the US embassy in Jerusalem, after he moved the US embassy to ‘Israel’ from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

Several Israeli officials opposed the US plan, including Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Israeli occupation Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Bennett proposed to the US President Joe Biden that the American Consulate reopened on the outskirts of Ramallah or in the occupied West Bank town of Abu Dis, but the United States has said it is not interested in the plan.

In a conversation with Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz at the Jerusalem Post Conference, Sa’ar also said that he strongly opposes the opening of a US consulate that handled relations with Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem, adding that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is on the same page.

“I spoke with [Prime Minister Naftali Bennett] a couple of times on the issue. We are on the same page, and we don’t see differently,” Saar added. “Someone said it’s an electoral commitment. But for us, it’s a generation’s commitment. We will not compromise on this.”

Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu also called on the current government to oppose the Biden administration’s plan.

“Once again, the Bennett government ‘contains’ [the situation] even when it means dividing our capital, Jerusalem. The State of Israel must oppose this move in every way possible,” Netanyahu said.

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