Will Israel cave to US demand for Palestinian consulate, effectively dividing Jerusalem?

Foreign Minister Lapid denies he accepted American intent to resurrect representation to Palestinians in the capital, which Prime Minister Bennett firmly opposes.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Foreign Minster Yair Lapid has denied that he had given his consent to the Americans for the U.S. to reopen its Jerusalem consulate to serve Palestinians.

In a Sunday report, Israel Hayom quotes “a political source involved in the relationship” between the two governments who said that in one of his first phone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the government was formed, Lapid just asked that the administration hold off until after the budget was passed in the Knesset in November.

Since right-wing parties in the government are completely against the idea and the coalition only holds a slim 61-seat majority, if the Americans made the move too soon the budget would be a likely victim of their anger.

Israeli law holds that if the budget vote fails, the government automatically falls and new elections must be held. The source said that the Americans agreed to the delay so as not to endanger the coalition.

However, when prior to Prime Minister Bennett’s meeting with President Biden in August, Israeli advisors made it clear that Bennett would never agree to the consulate, the Americans were surprised at the mixed messages. Because the secretary felt that “Lapid had misled him,” the source said, “this was one of the reasons that Blinken last week announced his intention to open the consulate specifically when Lapid was at his side” during the foreign minister’s visit to Washington.

The American embassy and State Department declined to comment on the report.

Lapid denied that he had ever expressed anything but his opposition to the consulate. At a press conference before the meeting, he said, “Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel and Israel alone, and therefore we don’t think it’s a good idea.”

He also rejected knowing that that the U.S. would reopen the consulate unilaterally even if Israel objects. It is legally debatable whether a country is allowed to open a consulate in a city where it already has an embassy, and it is impossible to do so without the host country’s permission.

When the U.S. had a consulate in eastern Jerusalem, it was de facto considered the American representation to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and acted independently of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

This was considered a sign that the U.S. would support the idea of dividing Jerusalem somehow in the context of a “two-state solution.”

Even when former president Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he said that “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.” Nonetheless, he ordered the consulate closed and to have all its activities take place in the Jerusalem embassy instead. The Trump peace plan also only suggested that the Palestinians make do with a capital in three eastern neighborhoods, two of which are on the other side of the security fence protecting the capital.

Biden made it clear since his campaign for president that he feels that reopening the consulate would help warm up ties with the PA after the cold shoulder it received from the previous administration, which would in turn help restart the peace process.