Will US consulate to Palestinians reopen in Jerusalem?

Republicans try to keep the US consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem closed
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
04 November, 2021
The majority of Republican representatives are urging Biden to not reopen the US consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, although he has said he would do it. Will he be able to keep his word?
Israel is exerting pressure on the US to keep the US consulate in Jerusalem closed [Getty]

This week, the majority of the House Republican Conference sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him not to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem.

This follows multiple statements over the spring by Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that the US was committed to reopening the consulate.

In reaction to this shift in policy, more than 200 Republican representatives have written in a joint statement that they opposed the reopening of “a consulate general to the Palestinians in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.

“Having a US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem would be inconsistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that became law, and was reaffirmed in recent years, with overwhelming bipartisan support. This law stated Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel and remain undivided.”  

Initially reported by The Jerusalem Post, the statement appears to provide justification as to why these lawmakers are against the reopening of the diplomatic compound, based both on their own political agenda and their continued allegiance with Israel. 

“Israel has also made clear its opposition to the consulate opening, with both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister stating they are against a consulate being opened in Jerusalem,” reads the letter.

Although the lawmakers cite a legal reason for not reopening the consulate, referring to the 1995 act, they omit in their letter that the consulate was opened before Donald Trump’s presidency. His administration closed the consulate in 2018 when it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital, and the diplomatic mission to the Palestinians was then absorbed into the US embassy when it relocated from Tel Aviv.

Referring to US President Joe Biden’s campaign promise and recent statement saying he would reopen the consulate, Americans for Justice in Palestine-Action Advocacy Director Ayah Ziyadeh told The New Arab that “Trump completely stopped Palestinian aid and closed the consulate. Biden said let’s start rebuilding relations. He announced he would reopen it, and now Republicans and Israeli officials are saying you can’t do it.”

The role of a consulate is mainly to process visas for citizens wishing to travel, particularly when the embassy in their country is inconveniently located. It also facilitates trade and aid. Symbolically, in this case, it would be a sign that the US recognises the Palestinian people and government with their capital as Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor, Moshe Lion, recently said in an interview with Israel's Army Radio that he would not do anything to prevent the consulate opening in his city, like denying municipal services such as water and electricity, in accordance with the law. Though this would be a decision for the Israeli government rather than the mayor of Jerusalem. 

“Overall, it just comes down to making sure we don’t upset Israel as an ally,” Ziyadeh told The New Arab.

“They’re favouring one people and completely letting down another.”

So far, the move is only opposed by Republicans, a minority in both Congress chambers.

“Since the Republicans don't have a majority in both houses of Congress, and it doesn't seem that any Democrat is opposing the move, at least not publicly, reopening the consulate is likely,” Anwar Mhajne, assistant professor of political science at Stonehill College, told The New Arab.

Biden might still face challenges in the reopening of the consulate, especially if pressure from Israel continues to intensify. In late October the US State Department said it could only reopen the consulate if the host country approved of the move.

“If the Biden administration is conditioning the reopening on Israel's approval, the chances for reopening the consulate anytime soon are slighter,” Mhajne said.