My word: the downsides of reopening the US consulate.

Talk about a moving experience. When the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, the festivities were full-blown. Everything from motorcycle rides to exaggerated speeches celebrated a new era, one that took too long to arrive.

The US “Jerusalem Embassy Law”, which requires the embassy to move to Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, was enacted in 1995, but successive presidents signed a waiver every six months postponing its implementation. The administration of President Barack Obama was reluctant to match the words “Jerusalem, Israel.”

And then came Donald Trump. In his non-diplomatic and unconventional style, he refused to go through with the move, and the US embassy sign was posted on what had previously been the consulate building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. One of the consulates, that is.

In a peculiar situation, even by Israeli standards, there was also an American consulate in a beautiful stone building on Agron Street in central Jerusalem.

How many consulates does a country need in a city? This was not a case of the more the merrier. After the Oslo Accords, the Consulate on Agron Street served mainly the Palestinians. Not only were there two consulates, but they were aimed at two different populations. Even the 4th of July celebrations were held separately: one for Jews and one for Arabs.

CRISIS OR business as usual? A view of the United States Consulate General on Agron Street in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH90)

As Likud MK and former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat frequently point out, the US consulate on Agron Street served, in effect, as a de facto embassy for the Palestinian Authority.

Trump consolidated all diplomatic and consular services at the newly inaugurated embassy in 2019 and created a Palestinian Affairs Unit to liaise with the Palestinians.

Being Jerusalem Jerusalem, the history of the United States consulate is complicated and goes back a long time. Well, not so much for a city that King David made his capital more than 3,000 years ago, but until 1844. That year, the US opened a consulate in the Old City, moving it outside the City walls. Old in 1912, to what would become Agron Street. At that time, Jerusalem was still under Ottoman rule. Britain overthrew the Ottomans in 1917 and Israel gained independence in 1948 (independence means it had the right to determine its own capital, at least that is what is accepted for all countries other than the Jewish state).

The Old City and what is commonly known as “East Jerusalem” came under Jordan’s control during the War of Independence in 1948 and reunited with the rest of the city 19 years later, when Jordan and the Arab world failed to destroy it. Israel on the sixth day. War. At no time was there a Palestinian state and Jerusalem was never the capital of any country other than Israel.

There was never a question about the direction of Agron Street (unless you question Israel’s right to exist fully). The street, by the way, is named after the late mayor of Jerusalem, Gershon Agron, who had previously founded this newspaper as The Palestine Post, in the days when Jews were considered Palestinians and Palestinians self-identified as Arabs. There is room for confusion, but there is no room for a country to maintain two diplomatic missions in the same city.

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the soul of the Jewish people. It is the city that houses the Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Residence of the Prime Minister and the Residence of the President.

The Palestinian Authority parliament and main offices, on the other hand, are located in Ramallah.

A US office offering consular services in Ramallah would be much more accessible to Palestinians living in the Palestinian Authority territories and would also offer them greater American recognition. (Although ensuring the safety of US personnel in Palestinian-controlled areas would definitely be more challenging.)

US President Joe Biden reportedly made an electoral promise to reopen the Consulate General on Agron Street and is now eager to fulfill that promise. There are reports that a former US consulate on Nablus Road that was merged with the Arnona complex in 2010 could be removed for better or worse.

There was a tacit understanding that the United States would not press the issue until after the eclectic government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid approved the budget, a vote in which all coalition deputies were needed to prevent the automatic dispersal of the Knesset.

But now is the morning after. And the government has a diplomatic headache.

It is no coincidence that the budget was approved in the early hours of last Friday and Saturday night, both Bennett and Lapid emphasized that they oppose the reopening of the consulate.

“My position, which I have presented to the Americans by myself and by Foreign Minister Lapid, is that there is no place for an American consulate serving the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Bennett told a news conference. “Jerusalem is just the capital of Israel.”

Bennett and Lapid are eager to mend ties with the Democrats after the Trump and Netanyahu eras, and Biden seems determined to erase any traces of the former White House resident, but both the prime minister and the deputy prime minister are aware of how the earth is.

Israelis are divided on many issues. The division of Jerusalem is not one of them. There is a broad consensus that reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem would not be good for anyone. Since the US Embassy is now located in Jerusalem, the unprecedented opening of a consulate in the same city would put Israel’s sovereignty in its own capital into question. Instead of more countries opening embassies to Israel in Jerusalem, there could be a movement to open consulates and trade representations for Palestinians in the Israeli capital.

The one thing it wouldn’t do is promote a future diplomatic process, as Biden might naively hope. If the Palestinians get a consulate in central Jerusalem in exchange for nothing more than intransigence, they will have no incentive to return to the negotiating table in good faith. Otherwise.

The Abraham Accords demonstrated that peace between Israel and the Arab countries can be achieved for mutual benefit. But in the wake of Biden’s sudden departure from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s swift takeover, America’s allies and enemies are closely monitoring how the United States tries to treat its friends in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Under the 1963 Vienna Convention, to which both Israel and the United States are signatories, a consulate cannot be opened without the agreement of the host state. A unilateral reopening of the consulate would contradict convention, custom, and common sense.

A consulate general is a symbol. Insisting on the reopening of a US consulate for the Palestinians in “West Jerusalem”, in an area that has never been disputed or discussed as possibly under Palestinian control in some kind of diplomatic peace process, begs the question “What would be the objectives? mission? mission? ” The measure will not only rewrite the Jerusalem Embassy Law and the Vienna Convention, it will rewrite history.

Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism and the subject of prayers, dreams, and psalms since before the times when King David made it his capital. Jews around the world face Jerusalem when they pray. Muslims and Christians also contribute to its vitality and special nature. Walk downtown, go to government offices, hospitals, entertainment venues; people of all three faiths will walk and work alongside you. Opening the consulate would open a Pandora’s box that would harm the nature of a united Jerusalem.

He is not diplomatic, but it must be said: there are no advantages to having the US consulate in Jerusalem. Only cons. Whoever sat there would not be a goodwill ambassador.

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