Republican senators introduce bill to block reopening of Jerusalem consulate

Legislation almost surely to fail as long as GOP lacks majority; co-sponsors blast Biden administration’s intention to reopen mission despite Israeli government’s opposition

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

A group of 35 Republican senators has introduced a bill to block the Biden administration from reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The “Upholding the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Law Act of 2021” proposal, spearheaded by Senators Bill Cassidy, (Republican-Lousiana) and Bill Hagerty (Republican-Tennessee), aims to prevent the US administration from relaunching the de facto mission to the Palestinians in Israel’s capital.

With Republicans lacking a majority in both houses of Congress and with no Democrat likely to back legislation aimed at thwarting a key Biden administration policy initiative, the GOP bill has virtually no chance of passing.

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 downgrading of their ties with the US.

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 their 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.

“President Biden continues to push forward his inflammatory plan to establish a second mission in Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem—one for the Israelis and a second one for the Palestinians—despite the fact that this plan violates the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and is completely opposed by the Government of Israel,” said Hagerty in a Tuesday statement introducing the bill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican-Louisiana, walks on Capitol Hill after the Senate acquitted former US President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, February 13, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

“The Jewish State of Israel is one of our greatest allies. The Biden administration must not threaten this relationship with a plan that is in clear conflict with US law, which states Jerusalem should not be divided,” Cassidy said in his own statement.

The Republican Jewish Coalition backed the proposal, with its Executive Director Matt Brooks warning the administration against making “yet another disastrous foreign policy decision.”

“If the Biden administration re-opens this diplomatic facility, it will be understood as a signal that the US expects that part of Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state – and that Israel’s capital city will be divided. Congress should stand behind the commitment to an undivided Jerusalem that it made in 1995 and has reaffirmed repeatedly since then,” said Brooks in a statement.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently warned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the 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.

Axios reported last week that Blinken prosed to Lapid that the US and Israel form a joint team tasked with resolving the issue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

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.

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