A report in the Washington Free Beacon cited sources in the State Department confirming that the Biden administration will move forward with establishing a new Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem that will act independently of the US ambassador to Israel’s office there. This move goes against the expressed wishes of the Israeli government. Still, the Biden State Department is going even further, opening an official Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem wholly independent of the US embassy in Israel. This consulate will act as a de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem, a move that violates international law.
“By establishing an office dedicated to the Palestinian government in the city, the administration is reopening the possibility of allowing that government to assume control of portions of the city,” The Free Beacon wrote, quoting David Milstein. He served as special assistant to former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
“Opening a diplomatic office to the Palestinians in Jerusalem after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, making it clear Jerusalem is part of Israel, has the same disastrous consequences as opening a formal consulate,” Milstein told the Free Beacon. “This decision is a blatant effort to unravel the implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and circumvent Israel’s clear opposition to a formal consulate, especially since the Biden administration admits this step is part of its plan to open a consulate still.”
The Israeli government strongly opposes the plan saying that it could be understood as de facto approval of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and a unilateral move by the Biden administration to implement that aspect of the Two-State Solution without the consent of the Israeli government. Israeli authorities proposed that the US reopen the mission in Ramallah or Abu Dis, but the PA rejected these ideas.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed into law by Congress in October 1995. The Act recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city, setting aside funds for the relocation of the embassy in Israel from to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 1999. The law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law and reissue the waiver every six months on “national security” grounds. Every president did so until President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.
The Free Beacon quoted Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said the State Department is circumventing the Israeli government to create “an unofficial U.S. consulate” to the Palestinians, in violation of the law.
“I unequivocally oppose this plan for what appears to be a new unofficial U.S. diplomatic mission in Israel’s capital,” Hagerty said. “This plan is inconsistent with the full and faithful implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and suggests that the administration is once again trying to undermine America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.”
The purpose behind this move “is to walk back the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, erode Israel’s sovereignty over its capital city, and signal support for dividing Jerusalem. It is outrageous and shameful,” Milstein said. “Members of Congress should use every tool at their disposal to block implementation of this decision.”
The Palestinian Affairs Department operated independently from the embassy. It served effectively as a diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority from inside Jerusalem until President Trump closed that department in 2019 and moved it to the new embassy, placing it under the auspices of the US Ambassador to Israel.
Jason Greenblatt, the former White House envoy to the Middle East, slammed the move.
“By trying to appease the Palestinian leadership with this empty gesture, we hurt our critical ally Israel, and we hurt the United States—we hurt our national security, our diplomatic efforts, and we waste precious U.S. taxpayer money,” he said.
“They are careful not to undo the move of the embassy to Jerusalem,” Zell explained. “The embassy act pointedly does not mention a consulate, leaving a loophole that the Biden administration is exploiting. In addition to moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem, Trump closed the consulate and put the office of Palestinian Affairs under the Ambassador. And this is what Biden is doing.”
“Closing the embassy in Jerusalem would appease the Palestinians, and the Biden administration may want to do that, but it would probably run afoul of the Embassy Act,” Zell said. “The more interesting question might be if opening the consulate violates international conventions concerning opening international missions without the host country’s consent. I could make this case, but we need someone who has the standing to bring a suit.”
“Part of the problem is that there isn’t really an Israeli government now that could bring a strong objection,” Zell noted.
“The State Department is trying to use a back door loophole to establish a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem which is something they couldn’t do through the front door by negotiating with the Israeli government,” Zell concluded. “Opening a consulate may not violate the Embassy Act’s explicit conditions, but it is violating the spirit of the law. It is not illegal but hugely disrespectful to Israel. It is certainly not the way you treat an ally.”
“A possible continuation of this would be if the Republicans retake Congress in November, they could pass a law to undo this. Biden would veto it, of course. If it gets bipartisan support, the veto could be overturned, and the consulate closed. It should be remembered that no Democrat attended the embassy opening in Jerusalem. Given the political environment, it is unlikely that a move in Congress to close Biden’s consulate would get any Democratic support.”