Photo: Flash90

Israeli rightwing tries to block US Consulate re-opening

Member of Knesset (MK) Nir Barkat has submitted a bill barring the opening a foreign mission in Jerusalem without Israel’s consent – in a bid to stop the United States from  reinaugurating a consulate to serve Palestinians.

By Erin Viner

The dispute with Washington pre-dates Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, which is regarded as the eternal capital of the Jewish People. The US, however, refused to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the city until former President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved his nation’s official Embassy there from Tel Aviv in 2018.

Until Trump’s decision, Washington had maintained two consulates in Jerusalem: one based on the contested eastern side, which had been ruled by Jordan 1948-1967, with the other in the western sector over which Israeli sovereignty is not disputed. Both of the consulates were merged into the US Embassy in 2019.

Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli and opening of the US Embassy in the city infuriated Palestinians, who demand east Jerusalem serve as the capital of their aspired-state. The Palestinian Authority (PA) responded by severing most ties with the US.

The administration of current President Joe Biden has previously stated that while the embassy location will not be reversed, it will work to repair relations with Palestinians. Biden restored hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid cut by Trump last April.

Following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced plans to re-open the east Jerusalem consulate that had once served as Washington’s diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.

The move is “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people,” said Blinken at the time, although he declined to provide a timeline for the controversial move.

Israel’s new cross-partisan government led by nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is strongly opposed to the move, even though fighting the re-opening is likely to strain relations with Washington.

“We must do everything we can to maintain the unity of the city of Jerusalem,” MK Barkat, who served mayor of the capital city from 2008 to 2018, told Reuters. The lawmaker, a member of the rightwing Likud political faction led by Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, said that public opinion polls show that an overwhelming 70%majority of Israelis support his bill.

Washington has yet to issue a formal statement on the matter, although Biden’s appointee as Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides noted in his 22 September confirmation hearing that, “That consulate has existed, in one form or another, for almost 130 years.”

In remarks cited by Reuters, Barkat responded that while Israel respects events that pre-dated its founding, consent was never granted for the opening of “a diplomatic mission for Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Foreign Ministry Advisor Ahmed Al-Deek accused Barkat of representing “the position of far-right parties in Israel which seek to block any chance of reaching a Two-State solution.”