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200 House Republicans sign letter urging Biden not to reopen Jerusalem consulate

Missive follows submission of long-shot bill in Senate; claims move would create ‘misguided situation’ in which US would operate 2 separate missions in Israel’s capital

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustration using a photo of Palestinian activists placing a T-shirt with a logo representing their statehood bid underneath the US Consulate sign during a rally on September 21, 2011, in  Jerusalem.  (AP/Dusan Vranic; Illustration: Joshua Davidovich)
Illustration using a photo of Palestinian activists placing a T-shirt with a logo representing their statehood bid underneath the US Consulate sign during a rally on September 21, 2011, in Jerusalem. (AP/Dusan Vranic; Illustration: Joshua Davidovich)

Two hundred House Republicans signed a letter Monday urging US President Joe Biden not to go forward with plans to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem, which historically served as the de facto representative office to the Palestinians.

The letter spearheaded by Rep. Lee Zeldin followed GOP legislation in the Senate aimed at blocking such a move, which has become the latest victim of partisan politics in Washington.

Like the Senate legislation co-sponsored by 35 GOP lawmakers, the letter signed by all but 12 House Republicans claims that reopening the consulate would be “inconsistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 by promoting division of Jerusalem.”

While the 1995 law does not outlaw the office Biden is looking to reopen, the Republicans argue that moving forward with the president’s campaign pledge would “create a misguided situation in which the US would essentially have two separate diplomatic missions in Israel’s capital, including the US Embassy to Israel along with the consulate general for outreach to the Palestinians whose government is based in Ramallah.”

The Republicans also argue in the letter that Israel opposes the move and that it would constitute a “reward” to the Palestinian Authority, whose policies, they claim, are “the real obstacles to peace.”

The consulate was shuttered by former US president Donald Trump in 2019 and its staff were folded into the US embassy, moved to the city a year earlier, in what the Palestinians view as a downgrading of their ties with the US.

US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas ahead of an appearance by then-US President Donald Trump; on April 6, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

US officials maintain that reopening the consulate is simply a return to the pre-Trump status quo and part of Biden’s pledge to renew relations with the Palestinians that were severed during the previous administration. Moreover, they point out that nearly a dozen other countries already operate consulates in Jerusalem that serve the Palestinians.

However, Israel is opposed to the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the consulate, viewing it as an encroachment of its sovereignty in the city and one that will lead to a flood of other countries moving to open diplomatic offices in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently warned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the US plans could risk toppling the Israeli government, which includes right-wing parties that may not be willing to stomach such a move.

While Blinken notified Israel of Biden’s plan to reopen the consulate in May, Washington subsequently agreed to hold off on the move until after the new government passes a budget this month, in order to give it a chance to stabilize.

Nonetheless, Blinken said that the Biden administration still plans on moving forward with efforts to reopen the consulate.

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