Biden is breaking promise to Palestinians – because Israelis don’t want us to reopen consulate

Former US Consulate on Agron Street in Jerusalem, now part of the US embassy (Jeffrey Blalock)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  January 5, 2022

If you want to understand the power imbalance between the United States and Israel, the farce over the former U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is a good place to start.

The consulate served as the U.S. embassy to Palestinians, in a historic building in West Jerusalem, but it angered Israel that the U.S. consulate empowered Palestinians in Jerusalem. So Trump closed the consulate in 2018, folding its function into the U.S. embassy to Israel. The Palestinians felt deeply insulted by the move, and they promptly “severed contacts with Washington.”

Then Joe Biden came into the White House and his secretary of state Tony Blinken promised that the U.S. would reopen the consulate (but not reverse Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem).

The Biden administration has done nothing to follow through on the promise, and now the reports are that it has shelved the plan, and Palestinian officials regard this as a betrayal and may renege on promises they made to the Biden administration, according to the Times of Israel.

[A]mid strong pushback from Israel and a foreign policy agenda weighed down by other issues, the Biden administration has effectively shelved plans to reopen the consulate, sources told The Times of Israel last month.

 US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan insisted during a visit last month that the Biden administration still intends to reopen the Jerusalem mission, but three sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that no plan has been crafted for how to make good on the promise.

So once again Israel is dictating U.S. policy toward Palestinians, and the White House is simply folding. As it has done in the face of endless Israeli expansions.

“If you needed proof that a two-state solution is dead, here it is,” Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute, tweeted last month. “If the US can’t even muster up the will to reopen its own consulate, how does anyone imagine this or any US administration will convince Israel to divide Jerusalem, handover all/most of the West Bank and evacuate at least 200,000 settlers?”

The farce was exposed at the State Department yesterday when Said Arikat asked about Palestinian frustrations with the Biden administration, “because you guys are not moving forward on promises that you made in the past.” Ned Price then offered vague bromides about the administration continuing to find ways “to seek to make real this belief that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures” of “security, prosperity, and freedom.”

The actual diplomacy of the consulate is pretty depressing: Blinken is beseeching the Israelis and they’re not giving an inch, according to Yossi Alpher at Americans for Peace Now:

Blinken has also pressured for Israel to relent and allow Washington to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to liaising with the PA. Prime Minister Bennett, under heavy pressure from his right-religious mainstream base, firmly opposes reopening the consulate, which President Trump closed in 2018. Bennett’s associates describe him as annoyed by constant Biden administration pressure over the Palestinian issue.

You’d think if you give someone $4 billion a year, they’d be more responsive to your needs. So maybe time to cut funding? The Democratic Party base wants to do just that, but Biden ignores the base.

The Palestinians see the consulate question as Israeli interference in U.S. policy on Jerusalem. From Barak Ravid’s newsletter this week:

According to one Palestinian official, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas told [Jake] Sullivan [in December] that the U.S. was giving Bennett veto power over its bilateral relations with the Palestinians. The White House declined to comment for this story.

Between the lines: The Palestinians see the reopening of the consulate as a political signal about the U.S. position on the future of Jerusalem.

Yossi Alpher’s account at Americans for Peace Now suggests just how much Biden has bent over backwards for the new Bennett government. The Biden administration accepts that Defense Minister Benny Gantz “holds the Palestinian file.” So the Biden administration is deferring to a man who bragged about bombing Gaza back to the Stone Age and who lately designated six leading Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist”-linked organizations. On that matter, too, Biden has shown a disinclination to use any political capital against Israel: at first the administration opposed Gantz’s designation, now it shuts up and says nothing.

 The Times of Israel describes other ways that Biden has brushed Palestinians off:

Ramallah has also for months been requesting an in-person meeting between Biden and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian officials confirmed. It took five months from his January 2021 inauguration for Biden to take a call from the Palestinian leader; Israeli premier Naftali Bennett met Biden in Washington in August.

Biden officials say a meeting with Abbas will take place eventually, but have avoided providing a timetable…

And of course the two-state solution continues to be the holy grail in Washington, even as no one who’s been to Palestine thinks that’s possible; and the Bennett government bluntly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. Just like every other Israeli government before this one. So Biden mumbles about settlements, but Israel just continues to expand the colonization of occupied lands.

Biden is showing no resolve on the Palestinian issue for an obvious reason: domestic politics. Any effort to take Israel on will be met by furious opposition from the Israel lobby inside Biden’s own party, and he believes that lobby has vast resources that are necessary for any political campaign. “In a political system addicted to funds and fundraising, Jews donate as much as 50 percent of the funds raised by Democrats and 25 percent of the funds raised by Republicans,” rightwing Israel supporter Gil Troy wrote in 2016.

Biden is afraid that Republicans will be successful at shearing off pro-Israel money– because look, Mike Pompeo and others are now groveling for the lobby’s support. This is why Biden has shut down the progressive discussion of Palestine inside the Democratic Party and will do nothing to help Palestinians publicly beside some pieties now and then.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006