The Palestinian Authority (PA) is keeping up the pressure on the US to fulfil its promise to reopen a US consulate in Occupied Jerusalem.
Israel is working to delay this step since it would be a retreat from the declaration by former US president Donald Trump recognising Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without any reference to the rights of Palestinians.
The PA views the re-establishment of a US Consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians as a tacit reversal by the Biden administration of Trump’s move to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It would be a recognition that Jerusalem is the joint capital of both countries. If Washington takes this step, it will put Jerusalem back on the negotiating table once talks resume between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The PA has accused Israel of trying to judify Jerusalem in order to impose a fait accompli on the ground and remove the city from negotiations and eliminate the option of a two-state solution.
It wants to criminalise accelerated settlement activities in Occupied Jerusalem, which have reached unprecedented heights. Opening a US Consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem would give momentum to Palestinian efforts to condemn Israel’s continued settlement expansion.
Israel is putting pressure on the Biden administration not to take the step, with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett clearly objecting to it. Bennett said that “my position is that there cannot be a consulate to service Palestinians in Jerusalem. We continue to express our position without melodrama. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
He said that a US consulate for Palestinians should be located in the West Bank and not in Jerusalem. Bennett’s position is the same as other officials in his coalition government and the right-wing opposition, who view any such step as a concession to the Palestinians.
But the US announcement that it would reopen a consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians, without a specific timeframe, was welcomed by some Israeli parties and politicians who believe the step will lead to a resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, a partner in the Israeli coalition government, argued that the US should open a consulate in Jerusalem if it wants to play the role of honest broker.
“Since Washington recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, now it must take another step to strike a balance between the two sides if it wants to be an honest broker. One side cannot take all it wants while the other side gets nothing and remains frustrated,” Abbas said.
Abdellah Al-Atira, an adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Ishtaye, called on the US to uphold its promises of reopening a US Consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem. He said Washington’s timidity was meant to appease Bennett.
“So far, the US has not kept the promises it made before Biden came to power,” he said. “Today, Washington is making its decision to open a consulate in East Jerusalem contingent on Israel’s approval.”
Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Executive Committee, said that “the PA will not respond to any US initiative if there is no decision on reopening a US Consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.”
“There is no clear timeline for reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem, and the issue indicates a real crisis between Israel and the US,” he added, warning that if Washington goes back on its word, this will lead to a reassessment of relations between the Palestinians and the US.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield last month that “the Palestinian side is waiting for the US to implement its positions on the ground in order to give the Palestinian people hope that the occupation will come to an end and that their rights to self-determination, freedom and independence will be upheld.”
In parallel, Israeli reports have revealed that the PA has shelved a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the US in response to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
The petition described the move as “violating international law,” adding that according to the Vienna Convention diplomatic missions must be established on the territory of the hosting state. Due to Jerusalem’s special status, moving the US Embassy there is a breach of the Vienna Convention, it said.
The complaint was filed in September 2018 when Trump was still in office. The ICC was going to review the Palestinian petition in June 2021, but two months earlier the PA submitted another request to suspend the proceedings.
According to the Israeli Hayom newspaper, the PA decided on suspending its complaint in coordination with the Biden administration to give the latter more time, show its good intentions and encourage Washington to implement its decision to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem.
Despite the efforts of the Palestinians and discussions with Arab and international parties to support this step, the Palestinians are worried that Washington is avoiding the move as a “consolation prize” to Israel to ease the tensions between the two sides caused by the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, which Israel opposes.
Tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv arose when talks with Iran resumed, and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and the chief of the Mossad intelligence agency went to Washington in a bid to bring the viewpoints together.
Israeli officials have said that Israel will continue to respond unilaterally to any Iranian threat or if Tehran is close to acquiring a nuclear weapon.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.