Reopening US Consulate in East Jerusalem is essential to peace
Israeli officials this week reiterated their opposition to President Joe Biden’s plan to reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem in order to restore diplomatic channels and support for Palestinian interests.
After Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump threw the Middle East into turmoil by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem in May 2018, the US Consulate was “merged” with the embassy in March 2019, but formally ceased all operations.
Trying to unscramble the mess Trump made of Middle East peace, Biden had Secretary of State Antony Blinken announce the reopening of the consulate during meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on May 25.
The move will help the US restore ties with the Palestinians and support the two-state solution.
Clearly, those goals are not shared by Israel’s government.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is in a government-sharing agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to take over as leader in September 2023, said while visiting Morocco last month to sign three accords as part of a peace deal between the two countries that the reopening of the consulate will undermine Israel’s government.
Lapid has made it clear that, while Israel wants “peace” with the Arab world, it does not want peace with the Palestinians — something more and more of the Arab world, including Morocco, has been willing to concede. The last thing the Bennett-Lapid government wants to do is temper its violent occupation of the Palestinian territories with a new drive toward peace with the Palestinians.
Reopening the US Consulate in East Jerusalem would give Palestinians living under that brutal occupation a place to go to not only obtain any necessary documentation, but also to complain about Israeli government policies that undermine their human rights.
But Biden’s aim is to give peace a base from which to grow.
The truth is that, when Trump moved the US Embassy, it reinforced restrictions that prohibited Palestinians living under occupation, including in East Jerusalem, from having access to the embassy.
Israel severely restricts Palestinian movement and blocks most of them from entering Israel. Despite annexing East Jerusalem, access to the area has been slightly better for Palestinians. Reopening the US Consulate would make it easier, though many of Israel’s apartheid restrictions would still obstruct their access.
More importantly, it would also offer Palestinians a place to go without having to acknowledge the US Embassy move, which was a slap in the face of peace. Like the Abraham Accords, the embassy move negated critical foundations for peace with the Palestinians that required quid pro quos from Israel under the old formula of pursuing peace.
Israel will get what it wants without having to make any concessions to the Palestinians. Its peace accords with Jordan and Egypt in the past were tied to Israel’s commitment to pursue peace with the Palestinians. Not so under the Abraham Accords.
The Palestinian affairs unit of the US State Department was forced to operate from the embassy in West Jerusalem. Reopening the US Consulate would allow the staff to work their peace magic there.
When not in Israel and Palestine, Blinken essentially works via Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Hady Amr, who now has a means to expand his efforts to reinforce peace efforts.
Amr was born in Beirut, but grew up in Saudi Arabia. He has a long and distinguished diplomatic career and was tapped by Biden to “engage in working toward a lasting peace” and to ease the conflict between Israel and Hamas, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Many obstacles to peace remain, mostly from the Israeli side.
The Israelis have been incensed by Biden’s appointments of more than a dozen Arab-Americans, such as Amr, to key positions in order to reignite the peace process. The appointees have all come under attack as part of a widespread campaign of defamation. Anyone who has ever criticized Israel or expressed support for Palestinian rights has been called “anti-Semitic” by the Israeli government-controlled media and its colleagues in the Western press.
The hate against Amr was spelled out by Jewish News Syndicate columnist Daniel Greenfield, who in February described the diplomat as “just another policy expert with a history of hostility to Israel.”
When Trump moved the US embassy, it reinforced restrictions that prohibited Palestinians living under occupation from having access to the embassy.
Most of the Arab-Americans working in the Biden administration have remained silent in order to survive their appointments, making their social media accounts private to hide past comments challenging Israel’s violence and propaganda.
Amr has the skills to navigate that treacherous and biased media minefield and is clearly destined to play a key role in helping to resuscitate the peace process, on which Israel’s government has forcefully placed its knee.
Closing the consulate constituted a total rejection of peace for the Palestinians, and it undermines Blinken’s vow that he made while visiting the US Embassy in Jerusalem. During his May visit, Blinken said: “We want to see a future in which Israelis and Palestinians alike know equal measures of peace, security, justice and, maybe most fundamentally of all, dignity, because that may be one of the most powerful human emotions that binds us all together.”
Clearly, that is not something Israel really wants to see happen.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania