by Hugh Fitzgerald
The Biden Administration seems determined to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem that the Trump Administration had closed. The consulate would again be the American de-facto “mission to the Palestinians” in Jerusalem, bolstering the Palestinian claim to having its future capital in Jerusalem. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a center-left figure known for ordinarily being accommodating to the Americans, expresses the deep unhappiness of many Israelis at this possible reopening here: “Lapid: US reopening of Jerusalem consulate a ‘bad idea,’” Times of Israel, September 1, 2021:
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem, the de facto mission to the Palestinians in the capital, is a “bad idea.”
“We think it’s a bad idea and we’ve told America we think it’s a bad idea,” Lapid tells reporters in an English-language briefing.
He says the reopening “will send the wrong message, not only to the region, not only to the Palestinians, but also to other countries, and we don’t want this to happen.”
The message such a reopening would send is that the United States recognizes a Palestinian claim to some part of Jerusalem as the capital of its future state. This will encourage the PA in making that claim, and promote support for it among other countries that will be taking their cue from the Americans.
“And besides, we have an interesting yet delicate structure of our government and we think this might destabilize this government and I don’t think the American administration wants this to happen,” adds the foreign minister.
The Bennett coalition goes all the way from rightist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, of the Yamina Party, to representatives of the far-left Meretz Party, and even a member of the Arab Ra’am Party. If the Americans go through with their plan to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, which would require the approval of the Israeli government, a fight within that government over the granting of that approval would undoubtedly result in the resignation of right and center-right representatives, causing the government to fall. And that would inexorably lead to new elections and the likely return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party. This is not something the Biden administration would welcome.
US President Joe Biden raised the issue with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting last week, and made clear that he still plans to reopen the mission after it was shuttered by former president Donald Trump in 2019, a US official said.
The Biden administration must know that the permission of the Israeli government is required for the consulate to reopen. Does it wish to expend political capital by bullying the Israelis into accepting this? Won’t it infuriate supporters of Israel in this country? The latest poll shows that 72.8 percent of Israelis oppose the reopening of the consulate in Jerusalem.
There is no reason why the Palestinians cannot continue to conduct business with the consular offices that have been folded into the American Embassy in Jerusalem. Reopening the separate consulate “to the Palestinians” in Jerusalem does not reflect an administrative need; it is purely a political move, made to buttress the Palestinians’ claim to a site in Jerusalem as the capitol of their future state.
If the Americans want to have a separate consulate “to the Palestinians,” the obvious place to put it is Ramallah, the site of the PA’s government. But such a placement would not further the political goal of the Bidenites, which is to undermine Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital alone, and to strengthen the claim of the Palestinians to having their own capital in Jerusalem as well.
The Biden administration announced its plan to reopen the consulate in May, but agreed to hold off on the move until after Bennett’s government passes a budget in November in order to prevent the destabilization of the nascent coalition, according to Israeli officials.
The Biden Administration does not want the Bennett-Lapid government to fall, nor does it need another foreign policy battle on its hands, given the great decline in popular support for Biden after the debacle in Afghanistan. The disagreement over the reopening of the Jerusalem consulate “to the Palestinians” is a battle Biden will want to avoid.
The Bidenites have indicated they will renew their effort to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem in November, after the Israeli government has passed its budget. By that time, the Biden Administration will have been properly pilloried as the bad news from Afghanistan, now thoroughly re-Talibanized, continues to come in: the enforcement, by flogging, of women wearing burqas, the limiting of education for girls to elementary and middle school, the reassignment of women who had been working outside the home to purely domestic work at home; the execution of musicians and homosexuals, and the punishment, including lashings, prison, and even execution, of those deemed to be insufficiently Islamic in their beliefs and behavior.
November will also be the time when major decisions will have to be made about Iran. The talks in Vienna will have failed; the endless appeasements of Iran by negotiator Robert Malley have not been enough to entice Iran to return to the 2015 Iran deal. In fact, Malley himself noted in an interview with Radio Farda in late August that “We don’t know if Iran’s intent remains to come back into compliance with the JCPOA as the U.S. comes back into compliance with the JCPOA.” As of early September, Iran has still not returned to the negotiating table, and many believe it doubtful that Tehran will do so unless it has been guaranteed in advance a complete American capitulation to its demands. And that is unlikely to happen.
By November, given Iran’s progress in enriching enough uranium up to a level – 60% — that would allow it to quickly enrich that uranium further to 90%, a level that would allow it to immediately produce a nuclear weapon, Biden must follow through on his assurance to President Rivlin: “What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” He forcefully repeated this statement to Prime Minister Bennett at their recent meeting in Washington. And for that to happen, Biden will need to be coordinating a military response with Israel, his indispensable ally, especially on intelligence matters, against Iran. November would not be a good time to raise Israeli hackles, and possibly bring down the Bennett-Lapid government, by reopening that entirely unnecessary consulate “to the Palestinians” in Jerusalem, a move which, we can only hope, will never come to pass.
First published in Jihad Watch.