Middle East Eye / November 1, 2021
Lawmakers claim reopening the consulate, which was operational for nearly 175 years and served Palestinians, is not consistent with US law.
The letter, led by Congressman Lee Zeldin, argues that reopening the consulate – closed by the Trump administration in 2019 – would be inconsistent with US law, which recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.
“Your administration would create a misguided situation in which the US would essentially have two separate diplomatic missions in Israel’s capital,” said the letter, signed by all but 12 Republican House members.
“The US consulate general in Jerusalem that was established in 1844 was not intended to serve as an outreach to the Palestinians in Israel’s capital.
“We urge you to respect our close ally Israel’s opposition to reopening the US consulate general in Jerusalem, especially since Israel’s cooperation is essential,” it added.
The congressional letter comes days after 35 Senate Republicans introduced legislation seeking to prevent the US from reopening the consulate, centering their justification around the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.
That legislation, however, contains no specific prohibition that prevents Washington from maintaining another diplomatic facility in Jerusalem, in addition to the embassy.
The US consulate, which served Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip, had been open for almost 175 years under several powers who controlled the city.
It was shut down in March 2019 when Trump signalled support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital.
‘Open for over 100 years’
In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the US was planning to reopen the consulate, reiterating Biden’s position during his election campaign in 2020.
The plan, however, has hit a snag as Israeli officials and Biden administration officials have been at odds over the issue, which Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said could break up the fragile coalition government currently heading up the country’s parliament.
Axios reported last month that the US and Israel were planning to form a joint team that will hold discussions over the consulate’s reopening.
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have called for moving the process forward in favour of opening the consulate.
A group of Democratic senators, including Chris Murphy, visited Israel in September and urged Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to support the move, noting the consulate had been “open for over 100 years” before Trump shuttered it.
A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz last month that the diplomatic building was “the seed of the American Embassy to the future Palestinian state, and a statement about everything related to the administration’s position on Jerusalem”.