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Israel won’t let US open Jerusalem consulate, Bennett said to tell visiting Dems

PM reportedly acknowledges Biden’s campaign promise and domestic sensitivities, but says his government views reopening of mission to Palestinians as ‘unacceptable’

US President Joe Biden (right) meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
US President Joe Biden (right) meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has reportedly reiterated to visiting Democratic US Congress members that he won’t allow Washington to reopen the US consulate.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will reopen the diplomatic mission historically responsible for Palestinian affairs. 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 viewed as a downgrading of their ties with the US.

The mission was based on Jerusalem’s Agron Street, in West Jerusalem, and had a consular services office in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Israel must accredit the consul general that the US sends to Jerusalem, according to the diplomatic protocol.

Bennett has called the planned move “unacceptable,” though he acknowledged the domestic political sensitivities within the Democratic Party and Biden’s election promise to his voters, the Axios news site reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed Israeli official.

“I am not going to… try to score political points over this issue, but the government position is that reopening the consulate is unacceptable,” he told the visiting congressional delegation, according to the report.

The Democratic delegation, sponsored by the dovish J Street organization, is led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and includes representatives Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Melania Stansbury and Jamaal Bowman. That delegation also met Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Bennett also met Tuesday with a separate, bipartisan US delegation, which also met Defense Minister Benny Gantz and traveled to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.

A flag of the United States flies outside the then-US consulate building in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

“The issue of the consulate came up in each of our meetings,” said the head of the delegation, Democratic Senator Chris Coons, stressing that “it is important for the United States to continue to have an open dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.”

Bennett told reporters Saturday that “there’s no room for another American consulate in Jerusalem,” clearly stating that his government would resist moves by Washington to restore the Palestinian mission. Bennett is a hawk who opposes Palestinian statehood.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said at the same news conference that Israel would have no objection to the US opening a mission in Ramallah, the PA’s seat of power.

Shtayyeh claimed Wednesday that the United States does not need Israel’s “permission” to reopen its consulate, urging Washington to honor its diplomatic pledges.

However, a senior US State Department official recently acknowledged that Israel’s permission would be required before the United States could reopen the consulate.

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