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Amid Israeli opposition, US said to propose joint team on consulate reopening

Blinken tells Lapid he recognizes political sensitivity of reopening de facto mission to Palestinians in Israel’s capital, says panel will allow sides to discuss matter discreetly

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanied by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right, appear at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanied by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right, appear at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The US and Israel are reportedly planning to form a joint team tasked with resolving a growing dispute over the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, against the wishes of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government.

The joint panel will be led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Lapid, along with one or two senior aides from both sides, according to a Wednesday Axios report.

Blinken proposed the idea during a meeting with Lapid in Washington last week, when Biden’s plan to reopen what historically served as the de facto representative mission to the Palestinians was raised. The consulate was shuttered by former US president 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 de facto downgrading of their ties with the US.

Lapid warned Blinken that US plans to move forward could risk toppling the Israeli government, which includes right-wing parties that may not be willing to swallow such a move. They argue that the reopening of a US consulate in Jerusalem that does not serve Israelis will lead other countries to do the same, thus damaging Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

“I don’t know how to hold this coalition together if you reopen the consulate,” Lapid told Blinken last week, according to Axios.

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.

The United States Consulate General building in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Blinken told Lapid that he recognized the political sensitivity of the move and said that the goal of the joint team would be for the sides to hold negotiations on the consulate in a discreet fashion aimed at preventing the matter from turning into a larger diplomatic incident, Axios said.

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 next month, in order to give it a chance to stabilize.

Lapid asked Blinken to hold off on convening the joint team until after the budget passed, Axios reported, though it did not reveal how the secretary of state responded.

“Inherent in the request to hold off on the reopening was a recognition that we would still move forward eventually,” one US source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel earlier this year.

A spokesman for Lapid said the joint team had not yet been established.

The State Department declined to comment on the matter.

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