We must not let Biden divide Jerusalem – opinion
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We must not let Biden divide Jerusalem – opinion

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Amid the coronavirus resurgence and mounting tensions with Hamas in Gaza, an important and highly resonant issue has been largely overlooked of late: the future of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

Demonstrating remarkable diplomatic naivete, the Biden administration has been pushing both publicly and privately to open a US consulate in Jerusalem aimed at serving the Palestinians.

Such a move, if allowed to take place, would not only be a slap in the face to Israel, but it would serve to encourage greater extremism by stoking misguided Palestinian hopes of obtaining a foothold in the city.

Nearly four years ago, on December 6, 2017, the Trump administration took the historic step of acknowledging history, reality and destiny when it granted official US recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

After the US Embassy in Jerusalem was formally inaugurated on May 14, 2018, the separate American consulate in the city which was tasked with dealing with our neighbors was closed and subsequently absorbed into the embassy where it is now the Palestinian Affairs Unit.

Ivanka Trump is all smiles at the official opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

This was the proper and logical thing to do. After all, it made no sense to have a free-standing American diplomatic office on Israeli soil dealing with a foreign entity such as the Palestinian Authority. Hence, subsuming it under the auspices of the embassy was the sensible, appropriate and cost-effective thing to do.

But now the Biden administration wants to turn back the clock on this move, signaling an openness to dividing the Holy City.

On May 25, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ramallah, he informed Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of the decision to reopen an American consulate in Jerusalem that would handle Palestinian matters.

This might seem trivial to some, but to view it as such would be a grave mistake. Indeed, symbols matter, especially in diplomacy and international affairs, and there can be no doubt what a new US consulate in Jerusalem aimed at the Palestinians would signify.

As Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem, said recently, “The act of establishing a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem means recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The administration’s consent on this matter is disastrous. I intend to aggressively fight this dangerous decision.”

And lest there be any doubt as to how the Palestinians are interpreting the proposed move, consider the following.

On the day following Blinken’s announcement, Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, told Palestine TV that the US announcement was a clear message that eastern Jerusalem is part of the “occupied Palestinian territories.”

Similarly, as the Al-Monitor website reported on June 1, Ahmad al-Deek, political adviser in the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insisted that, “the decision confirms that east Jerusalem is part of the occupied Palestinian territory and is the capital of Palestine and will remain subject to final negotiations.”

Consequently, the Biden administration has succeeded in reigniting the Palestinian illusion that they will gain control over Jerusalem, a fantasy that only serves to feed greater extremism and rejectionism.

Fortunately, due to international law, Washington cannot unilaterally undertake such a measure. Doing so would require Israel’s consent.

As Ambassador Alan Baker, the former legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry, explained in an insightful paper published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs last month, the “declared intention to reopen the former consulate general raises complex legal and political questions.”

Citing the terms of the 1963 Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, Baker points out that, “consular posts, or any other offices forming part of a consular post, may only be established in the territory of the receiving state with that state’s consent.

“Clearly,” he concludes, “reopening the former consulate in Jerusalem, the jurisdiction of which would be intended to cover relations with the Palestinian leadership, Palestinian governmental bodies, and Palestinian residents of the territories, none of which are subject to Israel’s sovereignty, would be politically and legally problematic.”

An equally compelling case against the Biden administration’s plan was made by former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman. In an article back in May in The Hill, a major American political news website, he wrote that, “A US consulate in Jerusalem to a foreign body clearly runs afoul of American law.” Such an act, he said, “would be illegal and unwise.”

Friedman rightly points out that, “the location of the consulate in Jerusalem will be perceived as a de facto location of a future embassy. That would be a huge and unwarranted gift to the Palestinian leadership who continue to pay terrorists in violation of American law and universal principles of morality, and who otherwise show none of the attributes necessary for non-threatening peaceful coexistence within the region.”

Doing so would “set forth facts on the ground that will guarantee the failure of future peace negotiations.”

For all of these reasons, Israel must stand firm on this issue and reject any request by Washington to open a separate consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem. We cannot and must not agree to allow Mr. Biden to lay the groundwork for dividing Jerusalem.

No other country in the world would even consider consenting to such a step, which would only undermine the international legitimacy of our rightful claim to our own capital.

And neither should Israel.

The writer served as deputy communications director under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.

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