Several leading Democratic senators currently visiting Israel stressed the need to re-open the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, days after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid publicly opposed the plan.
"In our meetings today in Israel with Prime Minister Bennett and other officials we stressed the importance we place on reopening our consulate in Jerusalem to better serve Palestinians," Sen. Chris Murphy said, noting that the consulate was open for over 100 years "before being cruelly shuttered by President Trump." Murphy — who is leading the congressional delegation including Sens. Chris Van Hollen, Richard Blumenthal and Jon Ossoff — also thanked President Isaac Herzog for a "candid exchange."
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Van Hollen echoed Murphy's remarks, saying "we had good meetings and raised this issue. It was also a commitment [U.S. President Joe Biden] made and important that he keep his word, follow through, and reverse Trump’s harmful decision."
The Democratic senators' comments are their first public remarks since arriving in Israel as part of a greater Middle East trip covering regional security and democracy. Prior to departing, the senators noted their eagerness to meet with the new Israeli government, saying that “America must be a force for good in the Middle East and North Africa, and we look forward to a productive trip.”
The senators have each been notably outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during their respective tenures, being among the most vocal proponents in Washington urging the Israeli government to improve treatment of the Palestinians and pushing the Biden administration to take a more active role in dealing with the conflict. Their comments come soon after Lapid voiced the first public Israeli opposition to the plan since Bennett's trip to Washington, where Biden administration officials raised the issue with their Israeli counterparts.
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Biden originally planned to reopen the consulate as part of the restoration of ties between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority, which were cut during the Trump presidency. The consulate historically served not only the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who reside in Jerusalem, but also Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who required U.S. consular services. However, Israeli officials and sources close to the Biden administration recently said that the U.S. has been forced to slow down its plans due to a separate Biden priority — helping the fragile Israeli coalition survive its first few months in office and preventing another election.
The visit comes days after Bennett visited Washington for the first time since assuming office in June. He did not meet with any congressional leaders during his trip to the U.S., though he spoke by phone with Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
It also comes on the heels of an unexpected meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two agreed upon Israeli-Palestinian confidence building measures, aimed at easing the Palestinian Authority’s financial woes and improving security coordination.