Palestinian Minister Says Bennett Trying to 'Challenge' Biden With Jerusalem Consulate Remarks

Hussein al-Sheikh notes the Biden administration 'has announced repeatedly' it plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that would serve the Palestinians, after the Israeli prime minister said 'there is no place' for it

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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U.S. President Joe Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House, in late August.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House, in late August.Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A Palestinian minister said on Sunday Israel had issued "a new challenge" to the United States, a day after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterated their opposition to reopening a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

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Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority's civil affairs minister, who also coordinates ties with Israeli authorities, tweeted that the statements constitute "a new challenge from the Israeli government to the #Biden administration, which has already announced repeatedly its decision to open the US Consulate in East Jerusalem!!!"

In a statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it views the reopening of the consulate as part of the international community's commitments to ending Israel's decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians seek for their future state.

“East Jerusalem is an inseparable part of the occupied Palestinian territory and is the capital of the state of Palestine. Israel, as the occupying power, does not have the right to veto the U.S. administration’s decision,” the statement said.

The Trump administration shuttered the U.S. Jerusalem consulate, an office that for years served as the de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to reopen it, a move that Israel says would challenge its sovereignty over the city. The reopening could help mend U.S. ties with the Palestinians ruptured under Trump.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Bennett said "there is no place for an American consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem," and that "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.

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.

There is a growing assessment among Palestinian Authority officials that the Biden administration does not intend to present a comprehensive peace plan anytime soon, and therefore most of its diplomatic efforts will be focused on the situation in the Gaza Strip.

A senior figure in President Mahmoud Abbas’s office told Haaretz last month that when the Palestinian president raised the issue of reopening the U.S. consulate in his October meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr, the latter told him that the matter is on Bennett’s desk. 

"That shocked us. Why do you need Bennett’s approval if the administration truly supports the two-state solution?" said the senior figure. "Why renege on messages already conveyed to Ramallah regarding the consulate?" 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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