Bennett, Lapid in united front: ‘No place for US consulate in Jerusalem’

Foreign minister says Washington welcome to open mission to Palestinians in Ramallah if it wishes; believes there is 'understanding' in US toward blacklisting of rights groups

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak at a press conference in Jerusalem, on November 6, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid presented a united front Saturday in their opposition to the United States reopening its consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Speaking to the media after the approval of the state budget for 2021-2022, the prime minister said that “there is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem.” This had been conveyed to Washington “both by myself and by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid,” he said.

“We are expressing our position consistently, quietly and without drama, and I hope it is understood. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel alone.”

Lapid backed Bennett up, saying that “If the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah we have no problem with that.” But “sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country — Israel.”

Lapid rejected the notion that with the government more stable following the budget’s passing, the leaders may be more willing to take on such a politically touchy subject.

“It’s not a question of politics. It’s an Israeli objection on principle for opening a consulate in Jerusalem. There’s an American embassy [here].”

Late last month, a senior official in the US State Department told senators that Israel’s permission would be required before the US could reopen its consulate in Jerusalem serving Palestinians.

US President Joe Biden has pledged to reopen the consulate, but the issue has been a sticking point between Israel and the US, as well as among some members of Congress. The consulate was shuttered by then-US president Donald Trump in 2019 and its staff was folded into the US embassy — which had been moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a year earlier — in what the Palestinians view as a downgrading of their ties with the US.

View of the US Consulate building in Jerusalem, on October 27, 2021, currently serving the US Embassy. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked about the issue during a press conference alongside Lapid in Washington two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s intention to proceed with the plan. “As I said in May, we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” he said.

Behind closed doors, Lapid reportedly warned Blinken that such a move could risk toppling the coalition government.

Lapid was also asked Saturday about the contradictory claims coming from Israel and the US as to whether Jerusalem had notified Washington in advance of its move to blacklist half a dozen Palestinian human rights organizations for alleged terror ties, a step that was taken last month.

Israel has alleged the groups effectively operate as an arm for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group — a claim to which the international community has reacted with skepticism.

The foreign minister once again maintained that the Americans had been notified, saying there had been “a process of evidence gathering” for several months that the State Department had been updated on. “It’s incorrect that they were not told,” he said.

This contradicted comments by US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization’s offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Saturday, October 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

“I understand some things were said just after the announcement,” Lapid said, “but in general we are on the same page with the Americans, they’re aware of it. Representatives of the Foreign Ministry were in Congress and the Senate in the past week to present the materials to the Senators and congressman on the various panels. I believe there is an understanding toward this step and the intelligence behind it.”

Amy Spiro and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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