Home LATEST-NEWS Biden pushes Jerusalem mission reopening until coalition stabilizes

Biden pushes Jerusalem mission reopening until coalition stabilizes

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The Biden administration has agreed to postpone plans to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem to Palestinians until after the new Israeli government approves a budget in early November, an Israeli official confirmed on Wednesday.

The US is wary of steps that could destabilize Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s nascent coalition and secure the return of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said, confirming an earlier Axios report.

The consulate, which primarily served the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, was officially closed in 2019 by former US President Donald Trump as part of the government’s transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem. Much of the personnel of the historic Agron Street mission has continued to work in the same location, although under a newly appointed Palestinian Affairs Unit, formed under the larger umbrella of US relations with Israel, considered a de facto worsening of the tires that Biden is. please turn around.

Bennett’s government asked for a reprieve, explaining that opposition members would use the reopening of a de facto mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem to drive a wedge into the still-green coalition, the official said.

The new government, made up of a range of parties from across the political spectrum, has yet to agree on a budget before it can be considered stable enough to withstand such criticism from the opposition. It has 145 days from being sworn in to do so, otherwise elections will be called.

Palestinian Authority officials earlier this month told visiting U.S. lawmakers they acknowledged they would have to wait until after the Israeli government stabilizes until they can expect big gestures such as the reopening of the consulate, a congressman confirmed to The Times of Israel.

The State Department is still in early talks on the matter, and the identity of the consul general who will lead the mission has not yet been determined, according to a source familiar with the matter.

(LR) Gregory Meeks, US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Ratney at the Independence Day celebrations at the US Embassy on July 5, 2021. (Ziv Sokolov/US Embassy in Jerusalem )

The consulate is expected to reopen in the same building on Agron Street in central West Jerusalem where it had been housed until the Trump administration folded the mission into its new embassy, ​​the source said.

The reopening of a consulate in Jerusalem requires some degree of Israeli approval and Bennett would prefer a mission to the Palestinians to settle in Ramallah, the source said.

However, the Israeli government has little reason to impose conditions on the US – which grants them $3.8 billion annually in defense aid – where it should place its diplomatic missions. Therefore, it is expected to get moving, the source added.

The latest delay follows reports last month that the US had agreed to reopen the consulate until after the summer for the same reason, at the request of the State Department.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his opposition to the move when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed him on the US plan in May.

Unlike the Obama administration, Biden officials have avoided identifying East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, instead insisting that such matters be left to the parties to determine in negotiations for a two-state solution. .

The Israeli impression based on recent talks with the Biden administration is that the US recognizes that it cannot force Jerusalem to take major steps against the Palestinians, which would risk collapsing the broad coalition, Israeli officials said. last month to The Times of Israel. .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

The Biden administration is willing to give Bennett some time before asking questions in the Palestinian arena, but is unwilling to accept complete paralysis and will speak out clearly against unilateral steps, a source familiar with the matter at the time said.

Biden campaigned for the reopening of both the consulate in Jerusalem and the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, which was closed by Trump in 2018. Both steps will face legal hurdles.

While then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the shutdown as an efficiency measure in 2019, many of the diplomats on the ground opposed the merger, and senior Palestinian officials have subsequently cut contact with the Agron mission.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool)

A former US official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration recognized the urgency of reopening the mission amid the latest violence in Gaza. As tensions in Jerusalem escalated in the weeks leading up to the May conflict in the Strip, the US lacked an independent mission with close ties to relevant parties and an ability to report thoroughly to Washington, the former said. official, acknowledging that the White House was late in its engagement efforts aimed at de-escalation.

That realization prompted the White House to prioritize reopening the consulate.

It is not clear what the specific role of the consulate will be. The old mission was responsible for serving all residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Since the vast majority of those citizens are Palestinian, the consulate was known as the de facto representative for them and its diplomats communicated regularly with PA officials.

Returning to the old paradigm would likely infuriate the settlers and their supporters, who feel they should be grouped with the rest of Israeli citizens who report to the embassy in Jerusalem, not the consulate, for their consular needs.

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