White House: Top official misspoke on Jerusalem Palestinian consulate

There has been “no change” in American policy regarding a consulate dedicated to the Palestinians in the capital, says spokesperson.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A few hours after a top Biden adviser said the U.S. still wants a consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, the White House said he had misspoken.

There was “no change” in U.S. policy regarding the consulate, said White House spokesperson John Kirby.

On Wednesday, during the flight to Israel, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters: “Our position is that we would like a consulate in East Jerusalem.

“Obviously that requires engagement with the Israeli government. It requires engagement with the Palestinian leadership as well. And we will continue that engagement on this trip.”

In this, Sullivan was echoing a May statement by State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who had rebuffed the idea that the plan for a consulate had been dropped.

“We are working through the issue with our Palestinian and Israeli partners,” he said in a late May press briefing. “There are a number of steps that have to go into the reopening of any diplomatic facility. As you know, there are some, shall we say, unique sensitivities to this particular facility.”

In 2019, following the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then-president Donald Trump closed the American consulate in the western part of the capital that had served as an independent conduit to the Palestinians. Its functions were transferred to the embassy, with the U.S. ambassador being in charge of all relations with the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.

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In June, the White House upgraded the Palestinian Affairs Unit, and it became a separate “Office” reporting directly to the State Department, although it remained situated in the embassy.

In addition, Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli and Palestinian affairs, has been made a special envoy to the Palestinians.

These gestures did not satisfy the Palestinians. When President Joe Biden ran for office, he promised to reopen the consulate, and Palestinian officials have often complained about the delay, demanding that the president keep his promise.

Biden is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Friday. A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom Wednesday that the PA requested that Biden provide, in a joint statement after the meeting, “a formal commitment and an actual timetable” regarding the reopening of the consulate.

Haaretz reported that the two leaders will give separate statements as the two sides could not agree on the wording of a summary of the meeting.

According to international law, a country must receive permission to open a representational office in its host country, and Israel has refused to allow the reopening of the consulate. No country has both an embassy and a consulate in the same city, and the Israeli government said it would be seen as American refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel.

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Last year, when he was foreign minister, interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that the reopening of the consulate was “a bad idea, and we’ve told America we think it’s a bad idea.”

The move “will send the wrong message, not only to the region, not only to the Palestinians, but also to other countries, and we don’t want this to happen,” he said.

In November, Lapid suggested the PA open a diplomatic mission in Ramallah, the de-facto seat of the Palestinian government.