In recent days high Palestinian officials, from PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on down, have gone public with sharp criticism of the Biden Administration over its failure to follow through with a promise to reopen the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and, among other things, restore its role as the place for the Palestinian to make direct contact with the United States. President Trump famously closed the consulate and merged it into the U.S. Embassy he had relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In our view, reopening the consulate as a separate operation would be a very bad idea.
Soon after he entered office, Biden announced his intention to reopen the consulate as part of his plan to restore ties with the Palestinians. And last May, after a meeting with Abbas in Ramallah, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that Washington would reopen the consulate general in Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Post, Blinken did not give a precise date but said it would be “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people.” Biden is also reported by the Jerusalem Post to have recently told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he still plans to reopen the consulate.
The Palestinians have also recently enlisted the aid of a visiting U.S. delegation that included Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who promptly tweeted a message calling for the reopening of the consulate general: “This consulate was open for over 100 years before being cruelly shuttered by President Trump.”
Murphy, et al, also pled the Palestinian case for reopening the consulate with Bennett and Foreign Minister Lapid, both of whom promptly reiterated their strong opposition.
But, if President Trump moved the consulate into the Embassy now located in Jerusalem, why should the Palestinians desire the reopening, since they still have an official place in Jerusalem to be in contact with the Americans just as before the Trump relocation?
Why indeed! Although not dedicated to servicing the Palestinians, it had lately come to be viewed as a de facto American Embassy for them, separate and apart from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Certainly, the Palestinians touted it as such.
So just picture the scene before President Trump moved the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For all intents and purposes, the Palestinians had a virtual U.S. Embassy in a city they claimed as their capital – of their non-existent state – while Israel, a bona fide state, did not have one in Jerusalem, which since 1995, U.S. law acknowledged as the “undivided capital” of Israel and confirmed by a similar declaration by President Trump in 2017.
But the Palestinians could hardly continue to plausibly argue that a consulate located in the official U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was also an embassy dedicated to them. Indeed, there is something titled Palestinian Affairs Unit operating out of the Jerusalem Embassy, which directly debunks what they are trying to peddle to the international community.
Small wonder then that the Palestinians want to reopen the consulate as a free-standing operation in Jerusalem to at least enable them to assert that it is tacit acknowledgement of their claim to Jerusalem as their capital. This is all the more so since, as far as we can tell, there is not one capital city in the world where the U.S. has both an embassy and a “mere” consulate.
So, the reopening of the consulate would be a politically significant move not warranted by the facts. There is no Palestinian state to speak of, nor do the Palestinians meet any of the internationally recognized criteria for statehood – not the least of which is the absence of a recognized and acknowledged decision maker.
We hope Biden will hearken back to his old days as a robust supporter of Israel’s well-being and make the right decision.