Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid doubled down on Saturday on Israel's opposition to reopening a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that would serve the Palestinians, a day after the Israeli government passed the state budget in a Knesset vote, cementing its political stability.
"There is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem," Bennett said at a press conference, alongside Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel only."
Lapid told reporters that "if the Americans want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that…. Sovereignty in Jerusalem belongs to one country alone, the State of Israel."
There has never been a U.S. consulate in Ramallah, and the option of establishing one has never been discussed. Israeli officials on his behalf later clarified that Lapid did not mean an official consulate, but rather a liaison office.
Bennett said the Israeli government was "making its case consistently, without drama, and I hope it's understood" on the American side.
Israel and the United States have discussed for several weeks the reopening of an American consulate in Jerusalem. It has been reported that the Americans withheld any decision on the matter until the budget passed, so as not to risk a political crisis in Israel.
The Biden administration has publicly re-affirmed its commitment to re-opening the consulate in Jerusalem despite the delay, including during both Bennett and Lapid's respective visits, while declining to offer a specific timeline on the reopening.
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Republican lawmakers have recently consolidated around the issue, turning what was once seen as low-hanging fruit for the administration into a genuine political wedge issue.
'Political stability and economic growth'
Throughout the conference, Bennett emphasized the "stability" of his government after the Knesset passed the state budget for the first time in three years, in what was seen as a victory for the coalition.
"The budget ensures political stability and economic growth," Bennett said. He also announced that the government will serve its entire term, fulfilling the "long list of tasks" ahead of it.
"Not being in a fifth election campaign is a blessing. We should use this stability to take care of issues that have long been neglected."
Lapid echoed Bennett's call for unity and proclamation of stability. "We took responsibility," he said. "In the most complex coalition in Israel's history, we put ego aside to build a machine that leads the country."
"We pledged to bring sanity back, we pledged to form a government, we pledged to pass a budget."
The Knesset approved the 2022 budget Friday, giving Israel its first budget in over three years.
The Knesset began the process of approving the 2021-2022 budget on Tuesday, and narrowly passed the 2021 budget on Thursday following a long overnight session.
The budget for 2021 is set at 432.5 billion shekels ($137.8 billion), rising to 452.5 billion in 2022.