Instead of succumbing to Israeli pressure, Washington must demonstrate its full commitment to international laws and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Nearly seven months have passed since the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Washington’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem. However, President Joe Biden's administration has yet to fulfil its pledge. The Times of Israel has reported that the US has effectively shelved its efforts to reopen the diplomatic mission to the Palestinians. 

For decades, the US Consulate in Jerusalem served the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It was shuttered in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump, and its staff was folded into the US embassy in Israel, which Trump moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a year earlier.     

The hesitation in reopening the Consulate by the Biden administration came in the backdrop of heavy Israeli rejection and pushback. Thus far, the administration seems to be yielding to Israel's pressure and effectively allowing Tel Aviv to dictate American foreign policy.  

The US has ludicrously sought Israel’s permission to reopen its consulate in the city. And Israel, as expected, expressed its rejection of the move, as it sees it as a challenge to its claims that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel — a claim that is rejected by the international community.  

But the Biden administration doesn’t need permission from Israel to begin with. In fact, the entire point of Palestinians pushing for the reopening of the consulate is for the US to affirm its recognition of Palestinians’ rights in the city.   

The US seeking permission from Israel is a de facto recognition of Israel’s apartheid rule over Palestinians, as well as a recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.   

Washington must also remember that the American consulate in Jerusalem existed long before the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was established in 1844, over a century before Israel came into existence in 1948. Hence, reopening the diplomatic mission would not be creating a new reality; it would merely be restoring a status quo that had been there for around 175 years before Trump disrupted it.   

Affirming Trump’s legacy

Since assuming office, the Biden administration hasn’t shown interest in engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It displayed utter neglect to the Palestinian plight and seemed more than willing to turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  

President Biden has also neglected to right the wrongs that the Trump administration committed against the Palestinians. While Washington has taken steps to reverse Trump’s measures with regards to Iran, Europe, and Yemen, his illegal, pro-occupation measures remain largely in place. 

Washington hasn’t moved the US embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, hasn’t reopened the PLO’s office in Washington or the US Consulate in Jerusalem, among others.  

Trump’s measures were in direct contravention of international law, UNSC Resolutions, and the Geneva Conventions, which recognise the pre-1967 territories, including East Jerusalem, to be occupied Palestinian land. 

The former president's moves were intended to create new facts on the ground that would give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation and undermine Palestinian rights. In line with this policy, shutting down the consulate aimed to delegitimise Palestinians’ rights to Jerusalem. 

By not taking action, the Biden administration, is, in effect, endorsing those illegal parameters and allowing itself to be a continuation of the Trump administration. Biden is giving credence to Trump’s positions at the expense of the positions of the international community and previous US administrations. 

As the US wavers on the consulate issue, Israel is accelerating its major settlement projects in the most sensitive areas in and around East Jerusalem. These settlements, including E1 and Givat Hamatos, intend to isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank. 

Litmus test

When Biden came to office, he said that he wanted to put human rights at the centre of US foreign policy. The matter of the US Consulate in Jerusalem is the perfect test. 

If it fails to re-open the consulate, the Biden administration will greenlight and legitimise Israel's acceleration of settlements and displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem. It will further entrench Israeli settlers in the city. It will also embolden Tel Aviv to ban other diplomatic missions to the Palestinian people from operating in the city.   

There must be no compromise on this issue. The Biden administration must reopen its consulate immediately and use this move as a statement to Israeli leaders that the colonisation and isolation of East Jerusalem will not be tolerated by the US. It would also be an emphatic statement of commitment to the freedom of the Palestinian people and their rights to an independent state with East Jerusalem as the capital.   

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