US admits it can’t open Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem without Israeli consent

Under international law, a host country must approve diplomatic facilities; Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has publicly rejected the idea.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A top U.S. official confirmed Wednesday that an American consulate cannot be opened in Jerusalem without Israeli permission, which the prime minister has already said will not be forthcoming.

While testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a variety of issues, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon was asked by Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) to go on record on this sensitive diplomatic matter.

“I just want to confirm something, on the record,” Hagerty asked. “Is it your understanding that under U.S. and international law the government of Israel would have to provide its affirmative consent before the United States could open or reopen the U.S. consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem? Or does the Biden administration believe it can move forward to establish a second U.S. mission in the Israel capital city of Jerusalem without the consent of the government in Israel?”

McKeon answered, “Senator, that’s my understanding — that we need the consent of the host government to open any diplomatic facility.”

Hagerty had just introduced on Tuesday a bill supported by 34 colleagues entitled “The Upholding the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Law Act of 2021.” It seeks to prevent the resuscitation of any diplomatic facility that would serve as an independent U.S. conduit to the Palestinians, as its decades-old consulate in Jerusalem did until former president Donald Trump ordered that the American embassy be moved to the capital in 2018 in accordance with the 1995 Act. All diplomatic functions were then merged under the American ambassador’s authority, and the consulate was shut down by 2019. Reopening it would thus subvert the original law, according to the GOP legislators.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a group of settler leaders in September that he had rejected President Joe Biden’s request to reopen the consulate when they had met the previous month. Biden had pledged to make the move in context of improving U.S. ties to the Palestinians, which had frayed badly under Trump, due to what they considered his overly pro-Israel approach.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and other top Israeli officials have told the administration that this is an issue that could break apart their fragile coalition. Lapid has denied telling Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Americans should wait until after the budget is passed next month, having stated repeatedly that reopening the consulate is “a bad idea.” If the budget fails, the government automatically falls and new elections are held three months later.

On Wednesday evening, 20 organizations held a joint demonstration in front of the now-shuttered consulate in western Jerusalem to encourage the Israeli government to hold its line on the issue in face of American pressure.

“This is not something that one does to friends,” said Im Tirtzu head Matan Peleg. “We call upon the American administration – if it is so urgent for you to open a special consulate for the Palestinians, open it in Ramallah, not in Jerusalem.”