The Biden Administration perhaps thought that the diverse makeup of Israel’s ruling coalition would give it wiggle room for the reopening of a US Consulate in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians. If so, it needs to think again.
It’s no secret that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a right-wing religious nationalist opposed to any manner of Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem.
But in a little under two years (August 2023), Bennett will step down and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister. Lapid is a secular progressive centrist who holds rather different views on Israel’s presence in what’s called the “West Bank.” Washington might have viewed him as more flexible on the touchy topic of sharing Jerusalem.
Either way, the US State Department has acknowledged that it will of course need to ask Israel’s permission to open a new diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, especially one that serves a non-Israeli population.
On Saturday, Washington got a crystal clear answer on that question from both Bennett and Lapid.
“There is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” stressed Bennett in a joint press conference with Lapid on Saturday. “We are expressing our position consistently, quietly and without drama, and I hope it is understood. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone.”
Lapid added that “if the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that. [But] sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country — Israel.”
When prodded on the possible differences of opinion on this matter within the ruling coalition, Lapid emphasized that “it’s not a question of politics. It’s an Israeli objection on principle.”
When former US President Donald Trump was in office he finally implemented the Jerusalem Embassy Act and moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In doing so, he folded the city’s US Consulate that served both Israelis and Palestinians into the new the new embassy facility.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has stated his intention to reopen a separate consulate to serve the Palestinians in his effort to mend relations between the US and the Palestinian Authority.
But for most Israelis, touching the sanctity of Jerusalem is not the way to go about achieving such political or diplomatic goals.