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Likud MK advances law to prevent reopening of US consulate for Palestinians

Ex-mayor Barkat warns Jerusalem will turn into ‘Palestinian consular capital,’ though several such missions already exist; Israel set to approve move, but has asked for more time

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at a party conference in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at a party conference in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Likud MK Nir Barkat submitted a bill Wednesday that would prevent the US from reopening its Jerusalem consulate to the Palestinians, which the Biden administration announced in May that it plans to do.

“We are talking about the unification of Jerusalem,” Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, told Channel 12, arguing that his legislation was needed to prevent the de facto division of Israel’s sovereign capital. “Before we know it, there will be all sorts of European consulates in Jerusalem, and it will turn into the consular capital for the Palestinians.”

However, several European countries already house their diplomatic missions to the Palestinians in Jerusalem as part of their support for a future Palestinian capital in the city. It is unclear whether the law would apply to them as well.

Barkat’s proposed legislation would ban any country from establishing a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem that is not a mission to Israel. The bill further specifies that any mission established to provide consular services specifically to Jerusalem residents will require special permission from the Israeli government.

Some 38 parliamentarians, including maverick Yamina MK Amichai Shikli, have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation. Despite Shikli’s support, the bill seems unlikely to pass without further defections from the coalition.

In 2019, the Trump administration merged the 175-year-old Jerusalem consulate — which had historically served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians — into its new embassy in the city. Much of the staff from the Agron Street mission in downtown West Jerusalem continued their same jobs, though under a newly named Palestinian Affairs Unit.

As part of an effort to restore relations with the Palestinians, Biden campaigned on reopening both the consulate in Jerusalem as well as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, which was shuttered by Trump in 2018. Both moves will face legal hurdles.

Even without the legislation Barkat has proposed, some degree of Israeli approval will be required to open a diplomatic mission in its capital, and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified him of the plan in May.

In a meeting with senior State Department official Hady Amr on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh urged the US to re-open the consulate as soon as possible.

This Monday, March 4, 2019 photo shows the United States consulate building in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry has asked Washington to wait until at least the end of the summer to give time for the politically diverse Israeli government to stabilize, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel last month.

Israeli officials believe the administration understands the complexity of the matter and will refrain from pressing it for the time being. But ultimately, the government is expected to sign off on the reopening out of respect to US wishes.

While a location for the consulate has not been finalized, its old site on Agron Street in West Jerusalem is the most likely option as reopening the mission there would not create a new precedent. While the US might prefer a location in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as their future capital, Israel would likely be more opposed to the message sent by such a move.

Unlike the Obama administration, Biden officials have avoided identifying East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, instead insisting that such matters be left for the sides to determine in negotiations toward a two-state solution.

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