Jerusalem consulate is a de facto embassy for Palestinians - opinion

Should the US administration wish to open a new diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority, the logical location would be in Ramallah – the actual seat of Palestinian government.

THEN-US TREASURY secretary Steve Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump unveil the plaque dedicating the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
THEN-US TREASURY secretary Steve Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump unveil the plaque dedicating the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Recently, the US administration affirmed its plans to fulfill then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to open a consulate in Jerusalem that will serve only the Palestinian population. The stated purpose of such a move is the “deepening of... ties with the Palestinians.” The subtext is clear: the consulate would serve as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

Israel, of course, does not object to the US improving its ties with the Palestinians by assisting them economically and providing consular services. All of these functions are already carried out today at the US Embassy, which was moved to Jerusalem in 2018. Should the US administration wish to open a new diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority, the logical location would be in Ramallah – the actual seat of Palestinian government.

So why does the administration insist on opening a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, the recognized capital of Israel? After all, there is no precedent in the world for the US opening two diplomatic missions serving two different peoples in the same city – and certainly not to an entity that remains openly hostile to the host country. The consequences of such an action would revive the Palestinian hopes to divide Jerusalem, Israel’s capital since King David’s time, and enable the Palestinians to claim it as theirs. 

Legally, opening of the consulate would violate US and international law. According to the US’ Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city” and “be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.” The act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Indeed, then-senator Biden was its first co-sponsor. And according to international law and custom, the hosting state – in this case Israel – must provide consent and approval for a foreign consulate to be established there. 

Legal considerations aside, such a move could have dire ramifications that extend well beyond procedure. It will harm the standing of America’s staunchest ally in the region while rewarding the Palestinian Authority’s continued intransigence and refusal to negotiate for peace with Israel. Giving radical Islamists a foothold in the heart of Jerusalem would only incentivize them to continue terrorizing Israeli citizens. That message is sure to reverberate across the Middle East, from Iran to ISIS and Hezbollah to Hamas.

 Hamas supporters wearing veils and gloves take part in an anti-Israel rally in Jenin.  (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS) Hamas supporters wearing veils and gloves take part in an anti-Israel rally in Jenin. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

In the wake of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, America’s allies and enemies are watching closely to see how committed the US is to stand by its friends around the world. Keeping Jerusalem undivided as the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people is enshrined in US law and enjoys multi-partisan consensus in Israel. An American initiative to divide our capital will not be received well by our citizens. 

Despite the US administration’s best intentions, such a move will not bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to reconciliation. If anything, as we learned from the Abraham Accords that brought to Israel peace with four Arab countries, only a strong alliance between the US and Israel can convince Arab regimes to move in the direction of coexistence and open ties.

That is why a vast majority of Israelis and members of Knesset across party lines oppose the opening of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. In fact, I introduced legislation over the summer that would forbid our government to acquiesce to the opening of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. Politically, Israel’s shaky, patchwork coalition government would not survive a challenge to a unified Jerusalem. In other words, the US will not receive consent from this Knesset. If it follows through with the plans, it will do so unilaterally.

Israelis are fully aware and rightfully skeptical of allowing Palestinians to gain a foothold in Jerusalem. We have seen from recent history that opening the door to territorial compromise to the Palestinians has not resulted in peace, but rather in war. In 2005, Israel made the painful but bold decision to evacuate all its citizens from Gaza. Optimists envisioned the possibility of a “Singapore on the Mediterranean,” with a flourishing economy and peaceful relations rooted in commerce. Israel even agreed to leave intact its world-class greenhouses and farms that blossomed throughout the Strip.

Tragically, Palestinians destroyed those agriculture facilities within 24 hours of Israel’s “Disengagement” from Gaza, where Hamas terrorists quickly took over the governing functions. Israel has been forced to fight three wars over the past 16 years to stop the missile attacks and cross-border infiltrations targeting our schools, hospitals and communities. 

For our survival, we can never allow radical Islamists to gain a foothold in Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem is not just another city in the world. Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish life for generations, and Jews from all over the world face the direction of our holiest city when praying. Today, Jews, Muslims and Christians have helped transform Jerusalem into a vibrant city with robust hi-tech and life science industries and one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world. The is not just our history. It is our present and our future. 

The writer is a member of Knesset and previously served as the mayor of Jerusalem.