Israel turned down Washington's request to reopen its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem to avoid bringing any legitimacy to the question of Palestinian statehood, experts say.
Israelis have once again shown their contempt for any signs indicating the possibility of a Palestinian statehood by disapproving the US demand to reopen Washington’s consulate for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
The former Trump administration not only moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but also closed Washington’s consulate, which had served Palestinians for several decades. Trump's decision seemed to be in line with Tel Aviv's longstanding policy of recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, rejecting a Palestinian state.
Both moves have been widely condemned and considered to be against international law and Palestine’s right to exist as an independent sovereign nation. President Joe Biden had previously pledged to undo Trump’s consulate move, although he also said that the US embassy could still stay in Jerusalem.
“Looked at from the Israeli point of view, reopening a consulate in East Jerusalem will likely be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the [Naftali] Bennett government and the end of the good old days of Trumpism,” says Richard Falk, a prominent international law professor.
According to the professor, Trump’s blatant approach toward Jerusalem that unabashedly favoured Israel has also been seen as an abandonment of the two-state diplomacy, which has been the main foundation of the international consensus since the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The US consulate “symbolised an appreciation of Palestinian claims to the city” and its closure was “a blow to the prestige and effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority”, Falk tells TRT World.
In this sense, its reopening would internationally bring back “the question as to whether Jerusalem was the 'eternal and undivided' capital of Israel, a continuing affront to the Islamic world,” says Falk.
Israelis are furious about Biden's move as it rekindles the public criticism of the consulate issue, wasting Tel Aviv's full throttle lobbying in Washington.
"There is no room for another American consulate in Jerusalem. We always present our position quietly without drama and we expect it to be understood. Jerusalem is the capital of one state and that's the state of Israel," said Naftali Bennett after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed Washington’s demand to reopen its consulate to Israelis.
Like Falk, other experts also think that Bennett’s rejection is rooted in Tel Aviv’s eternal fear that the rise of a Palestinian state will pose an existential challenge to Israel.
“Because that will be a recognition of Israel’s failure for the past years to the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital and it will shake Israel’s image,” says Yousef Alhelou, a Palestinian political analyst.
Will US-Israeli friction lead to any tensions?
Alhelou also believes that this kind of disagreement might lead to increased tensions between the Biden administration and the new fragile Israeli government comprising eight different parties.
“Such a decision will cause a stressful relationship between the two allies and will trigger Tel Aviv to tarnish Biden’s image and bring him down,” Alhelou tells TRT World.
“Clearly, this is the battle of wills between the Biden and Bennett administrations,” says Kamel Hawwash, a British-Palestinian academic and activist. While Israel claims that Jerusalem is its undivided capital, reopening the American consulate can reinstate “hope” that it would “become the US embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem” in the future, Hawwash tells TRT World.
Hawwash sees some signs of uneasiness toward Israel in the US Congress. “There are also other issues including supply of aid to Israel that is now being questioned. It used to be without any questioning,” the political analyst says.
“It’s really important if the US believes in the two-state solution, it sticks to its guns and insists on reopening the consulate in East Jerusalem.”
But the US, which unfairly favours Israel over Palestinians, can’t follow its consulate case against Tel Aviv much to the dismay of progressive Democratic lawmakers in the American Congress, according to Alhelou. “The US will bow to pressure from the Zionist lobby in the US and will try to please Israel and find a middle way,” says Alhelou.
Falk also thinks that the US cannot further enforce its demand to reopen the Jerusalem consulate over Israel. That’s an interesting fact regarding the US superpower status across the world.
“I think that probably the US would seek a delay in reaching a final decision, and Israel would proceed discretely to avoid an open break if possible,” Falk analyses.
“If no agreement is reached, I would imagine that the US would back off, maybe opening a large consulate or even embassy in Ramallah, but at the same doing other things, perhaps in relation to weapons or Iran diplomacy that are desired by Israel.”
In the worst scenario, tensions between Israel and the US could push the two allies to the point of “the uneasy relationship of the Obama presidency”, but in reality, there will be no real change, according to Falk.
“Washington will also be mindful of creating a rupture that would help Netanyahu recover political leadership,” he adds. The former long-time prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was kicked out from powerby the formation of the Bennet government after four unprecedented inconclusive elections.
“I don’t know how to hold this coalition together if you reopen the consulate,” Israel’s Yair Lapid, the political architect of the current coalition, told Blinken last month.
But according to Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian political analyst, the Bennet government is using the current fractious anti-Netanyahu coalition government as a political tool “to defer” the US decision on reopening the consulate.
However, Palestinians are out of the picture in this conversation. “As Israeli politicking continues, the Palestinians are almost entirely relegated from this conversation,” Baroud tells TRT World.
Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist, author and film-maker who was based in occupied East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020, sees the template of Israel’s unfair political mentality toward Palestinians in Tel Aviv’s refusal of the US consulate in Jerusalem.
“The potential re-opening of a US consulate in East Jerusalem would be an important symbol of Washington believing that Palestinians are human beings who deserve equal rights, a view that's opposed by the Israeli government,” Loewenstein tells TRT World.
“Bennett doesn't see Palestinians as equal to Jews and therefore doesn't believe that the US should need to assist them in East Jerusalem,” he adds.
But under any circumstances, Israel's rejection of the US consulate will have “no impact on US-Israeli relations because it's impervious to Israeli actions, endless occupation and racism” according to Loewenstein.
“The US-Israeli alliance is based on supposed ‘shared values’, namely a belief that occupation is the best way to treat the Palestinian people. The Biden administration has no interest in seriously challenging Israel because they pay no political price in the US for offering unlimited support."
Falk agrees with Loewenstein. “The Biden administration is continuing to pursue a strongly pro-Israeli position as seen by its weak protests over the issuance of 3,000 new permits for settlement expansion and in reaction to the branding of internationally respected Palestinian NGOs as 'terrorist organisations',” the professor says.