Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday raised with Secretary of State Antony Blinken the administration’s long-delayed pledge to reopen a Palestinian-focused consulate in Jerusalem, hours after Blinken’s Israeli counterpart restated his government’s opposition to the plan.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and Israel alone,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid declared.
Alongside Blinken in Ramallah, Abbas said the P.A. stressed the importance of the administration implementing measures that it “believes in,” including the re-opening of the consulate in Jerusalem.
He also listed support for the “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian dispute, the “annulment of all American laws that consider the PLO a terrorist organization,” putting an end to Israeli communities in territory claimed by the Palestinians, and “maintaining the historical status in al-Aqsa mosque.”
Alluding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Abbas – whose four-year term expired in early 2009 but has been extended ever since by decree – complained that the international community practiced “double standards,” and implied that Israel deserves to be treated in the same way as Russia is.
“The latest incidents in Europe have proven that there are double standards being flagrantly observed around the world,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
“For in spite of the crimes of the Israeli occupation that have reached a stage of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination, as conceded by human rights organizations, and its continuous aggression against sanctities and a lack of respect for international law, we don’t find any party that would hold Israel accountable for its actions as it acts as a state above all law.”
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in 2018. The Trump administration merged its operations into the U.S. Embassy after relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital. (Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)
The reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem – which served as a de facto embassy to the P.A. – was one deliverable that Abbas was hoping to achieve from the new American administration last year as it walked back some of its predecessors’ foreign policies.
After President Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, he complied with long-waived U.S. law and in 2018 moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital. As part of the consolidation, diplomacy with the P.A. was moved from the consulate into a Palestinian Affairs Unit at the embassy.
Although the P.A. is not a sovereign entity several countries, including Russia, China, Denmark, and Finland, have diplomatic missions in Ramallah, the city some 12 miles north of Jerusalem where Abbas has his headquarters.
But for the P.A., which wants Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, having the U.S. reopen the consulate in the city has major symbolic importance.
After taking office the Biden administration said it would not reverse Trump’s embassy move, but Blinken assured Abbas during a visit to Ramallah 10 months ago that the U.S. would move ahead with a process of reopening the consulate in Jerusalem.
Israel made clear, however, that it viewed the plan as a partial undoing of Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the city.
At a press conference with Blinken in Jerusalem earlier Sunday, Lapid reiterated that stance.
A reporter asked Lapid how Israel justified “standing in the way” of the administration’s desire to reopen the consulate, given that the U.S. is Israel’s biggest financial, political and security partner.
“Yes,” Lapid agreed, “the United States is our greatest ally and greatest friend, and therefore, we take very seriously whatever subject they want to put on the table. Part of this friendship is the fact that we have the ability to have an open dialogue about everything.”
Lapid said Israel had no problem – “and it’s not even our place to say anything” – with the U.S. wanting to open an office to deal with consular or day-to-day problems of Palestinians.
“We just don’t think Jerusalem is the right place for this,” he said. “Because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and Israel alone.”
Blinken did not mention the consulate dispute in his public remarks in either Jerusalem or Ramallah.
Last week Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a resolution that would reaffirm Congress’ position that the U.S. should be represented by a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem.
He noted that the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act recognized that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel and that the U.S. Embassy to Israel should be in that city.
(The 1995 legislation received strong bipartisan support, passing 374-37 in the House and 93-5 in the Senate, but every president since President Clinton waived the 1995 law’s requirement for the embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv by May 31, 1999, until Trump in 2018 reversed course.)
“Congress has made clear for decades that the U.S. Embassy in Israel should be in Jerusalem,” Lee said. “Now, after we have made the historic and legally required move, President Biden risks upsetting allies, a delicate diplomatic balance, and the authority of the law.”
Lee’s concurrent resolution contends that the consulate reopening plan “could be viewed as a challenge to Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s status as an undivided city.”
It argues that the move would entail a “substantial expenditure of American taxpayer funds” and would also be unnecessary, saying the Palestinian Affairs Unit at the embassy already fulfils “in a timely and effective manner” the functions that the administration envisages for the consulate.
“The presence of a United States diplomatic mission devoted to a non-state actor in Israel’s sovereign capital would be an affront to the territorial integrity of a long-standing United States partner and ally.”
Cosponsors of the measure are Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Roger Marshall (R-Kans.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and John Boozman (R-Ark.).
Last November 200 House Republicans signed a letter to Biden voicing “strong opposition” to the consulate reopening plan, arguing that it would be inconsistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act by promoting division of Jerusalem.
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