The Biden administration is on a mission to mend fences with the Palestinians. They are operating under the conviction that the Trump administration was so one-sided vis a vis the Israeli/Palestinian situation, that it supported only Israel and totally alienated Palestinians.
Their great gesture to the Palestinians, their “peace offering,” is a pledge to reopen the United States consulate in Jerusalem. The consulate will service Palestinians living in Israel.
On May 14, 2018, the Gregorian anniversary corresponding to the Jewish anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The move was decades in the making. And the Palestinians broke off all talks with Israel and with the United States.
Biden’s White House wants to lure Palestinians back. He wants them back at the negotiating table. He wants them back in the stable of America’s friends.
Not only has the administration pledged the re-opening of the consulate, the White House has also begun to reallocate funds to the Palestinians.
Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem, now a member of the Knesset representing the former ruling Likud party, is putting the brakes on the Biden administration’s plan. Barkat has proposed a bill that would require the government of Israel to approve the opening of all diplomatic missions in Israel.
Barkat argues that his bill has a 70% approval rating in national polls.
Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a huge victory for then-President Trump. Along with the move came U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Before the move, in addition to the Tel Aviv embassy, the United States had two consulates in Jerusalem. One in East Jerusalem, one in West Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was the only city in the world with two U.S. consulates.
Once upon a time Berlin had two, but that was different; they were in two different countries. In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel reunited the City of Jerusalem which had been spilt into East and West during the War of Independence of 1948. From 1948 until 1967 East Jerusalem was part of Jordan, not a part of Israel.
The United States had determined that Jerusalem was in dispute and they did not want to take sides. Hence the two consulates and the decision to open the United States embassy in Tel Aviv.
So unique was this diplomatic anomaly that the consulate in Jerusalem and its consul general answered to and reported not to the Tel Aviv embassy or to the U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv – but directly to the Secretary of State at Foggy Bottom in Washington.
With the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, came the simultaneous closing of the two Jerusalem consulates. All consular services were subsumed under the new embassy.
Suffice it to say that today, Jerusalem is a united city within the country of Israel. And with this move by then-President Trump, even the United States finally recognized that status.
Suffice it to say, too, that this counter move, by Barkat, against the Biden administration, will not be received well in, Washington D.C.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet has already begun to try and mollify the situation. His office has called Barkat’s plan a public relations stunt and they said that they do not comment on stunts. The statement was, “We don’t comment on trolling.”
Palestinians point to the move as another tool that Israel is utilizing to hurt the Palestinians.
For his part, Barkat told Reuters that: "We must do everything we can to maintain the unity of the city of Jerusalem." His point is that Israel should have the power and the right to “consent to open a diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem.” The Barkat bill also recognizes that there are a handful of countries with Jerusalem missions, like the former U.S. consulate, that predate Israel's founding in 1948.
As grand a gesture as the Biden administration is planning to make, there are U.S. legal issues the White House will have to resolve in order to open a consulate in Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, to service the Palestinians.
On October 23, 1995, the United States overwhelmingly passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act. In the Senate the vote was 95-5. In the House the vote was 374-37.
Section 2 article 1 of the Act says clearly that every country has the right to determine its own capital.
Israel will not permit the United States to open a consulate in Jerusalem to service Palestinians who live in Israel. It is not simply about redundant services or reproducing services. Doing so would effectively be creating a state entity for the Palestinians.
Israel will not let that happen. Israel will say “no”! The Biden administration chose the wrong move to champion.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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