PM Naftali Bennett (r) and FM Yair Lapid at a press conference, Nov. 6, 2021. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL) (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett

“If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that.” However, Lapid insisted, “sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country — Israel.”

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters on Saturday night that they formally notified the U.S. of their objections to an American consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The two leaders, along with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, were holding a press conference on the state budget when the subject turned to the consulate. Knesset lawmakers passed state budgets for 2021 and 2022 on Thursday night.

According to numerous reports, the administration of President Joe Biden planned to wait until after a budget was passed before pressing Israel on the consulate issue. Failure to pass a budget by November 14 would have automatically triggered snap elections and put American diplomacy on hold for months. With the budget out of the way, Bennett and Lapid are apparently trying to pre-empt renewed U.S. demands.

“My position, which has been presented to the Americans by myself and by Foreign Minister Lapid, is that there is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Bennett said. “We have expressed our position [to the U.S.] determinedly, quietly, without drama, and I hope it will be understood. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone.”

Lapid said, “If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that.” However, he insisted, “sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country — Israel.”

In 2018, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there. Consular services for Israelis and Palestinians were shifted to the embassy. In a downgrade of U.S. ties with Ramallah, the consulate’s Palestinian Affairs Unit — which fronted the State Department’s diplomatic engagement with the Palestinian Authority — was also merged into the embassy.

During the 2020 presidential election campaign, Joe Biden called the move “short-sighted and frivolous,” though he added that he would not transfer the embassy back to Tel Aviv if elected.

The Biden administration and the Democratic party see the consulate as a key step in rebooting U.S.-Palestinian relations.

Critics say that opening a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem infringes on Israeli sovereignty, re-divides Jerusalem and rewards Palestinian intransigence. Further complicating the issue is that the consulate building is located on Agron Road in downtown Jerusalem, in the western half of the city.

Previous reports suggested that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was preparing for the possibility of unilaterally opening the consulate over Israeli objections. But in October, U..S Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon conceded to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the U.S. would need Israel’s consent and diplomatic accreditation to reopen the building for that purpose.