Some people say they see signs of senility in Joe Biden. Surely one such sign is his continued insistence that he will be reopening the “consulate to the Palestinians” in Jerusalem that the Trump administration closed in 2018. He seems not to understand that he cannot do that without Israel’s express permission, and that Israeli leaders, including former Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, as well as the current caretaker Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, have said clearly they will not consent to the reopening of the consulate. A report on Biden’s apparent intention to ignore the international law on the matter is here: “Biden to talk up Jerusalem consulate, but no announcement expected,” by Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, July 11, 2022:
US President Joe Biden is expected to reaffirm his aim to open a consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem, but not to announce any progress on the matter during his trip to Israel this week, a US official said on Monday.
He’s foolish – can none of his handlers stop him? — to “reaffirm his aim to open a consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem”? It can’t be done. Biden must be made to read and comprehend the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), Article 4, that states clearly the following:
1. A consular post may be established in the territory of the receiving State only with that State’s consent.
2. The seat of the consular post, its classification and the consular district shall be established by the sending State and shall be subject to the approval of the receiving State.
3. Subsequent changes in the seat of the consular post, its classification or the consular district may be made by the sending State only with the consent of the receiving State.
The “consent” of the “receiving State” – in this case that state is Israel – must be obtained before a consulate can be opened or reopened in that state. The Israelis have made clear such consent will not be given. That is the end of the matter. Or does Biden intend to apply extreme pressure on Israel to force it to consent, such as withholding aid from Israel that was to be granted for building more Iron Dome anti-missile systems? Or perhaps withholding aid Israel would like in order to develop the laser-based Iron Beam system? With this administration, anything is possible.
A senior Israeli diplomatic source also said a consulate for the Palestinians is not on the agenda for Biden’s visit.
It’s not “on the agenda for Biden’s visit,” but it is still very much an issue to be discussed at a later date. One hopes that during his visit Prime Minister Yair Lapid will take the occasion to remind Biden of the Vienna Convention’s rules, and why it would be best for Washington to permanently drop the matter, so as not to cause an unnecessary squabble between Israel and the U.S.
The top items on Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s agenda for his meeting with Biden are the US-Israel bilateral relationship, Iran and Israel’s integration in the region, the Israeli source said, referring to an expected announcement of advances in ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Everyone is expecting some kind of announcement of closer ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia to come out of Biden’s trip. Even if King Salman still prevents the Kingdom from joining the Abraham Accords, there are other intermediate steps that Israel and Saudi Arabia could take, and which the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is widely believed to favor. These include Riyadh agreeing to Israel’s request for direct flights from Tel Aviv to Jeddah, so that Israeli Arabs can make the hajj more easily. Another might be the announcement of a sale of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile systems to the Saudi military, to help the Saudis defend against Houthi drone and missile attacks on their oil installations and airbases. A third might be Biden declaring that a regional air defense agreement, to meet the Iranian threat, was in the offing, under American leadership, and two of its key members would be Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinians will also be a topic of discussion, and Russia’s war on Ukraine comes up in all of the prime minister’s conversations with Western leaders, the source added.
How will the Palestinians come up? Will Biden try to persuade the Saudis to renew the aid they no longer give the PA? Will he lament the fact that the Saudis seem uninterested in the so-called “plight of the Palestinians”? Or will the Saudis, defending their policy, bring up the ingratitude of the Palestinians, who have received from the Saudis $11.5 billion in aid between 2000 and 2020 as if it were only their due? Even more enraging to Riyadh has been the recent Palestinian refusal to call the Kingdom by its long-accepted name — “Saudi Arabia” — but, instead, the PA media have followed the Iranian example and now refer to Saudi Arabia as “al-diara al-hijaziya” – the “Land of the Hijaz” or “the Hijaz.” That is a way of denying legitimacy to the rule of the Al-Saud family, and has infuriated the royals.
Biden promised during his election campaign to reopen the consulate, which operated out of Jerusalem, but the Trump administration closed it when it moved the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. The functions and staff of the former consulate were called the “Palestinian Affairs Unit,” which worked under the auspices of the embassy to Israel.
Israel opposed reopening the consulate to the Palestinians, saying that doing so would undermine Israeli sovereignty in its united capital, Jerusalem.
The US State Department upgraded the office to the Palestinians in Jerusalem last month, without opening a consulate, changing the name to the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem” and allowing it to report directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department.
Biden plans to announce an aid package for Palestinian hospitals in eastern Jerusalem during a visit to such a medical center near the Mount of Olives on Friday. The visit will not be accompanied by Israelis and will be in the framework of his meetings with Palestinians that day, including a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
Aid to Palestinian hospitals? Who could object to that kind of aid? Well, you could, and I could, and so could all those Congressmen who passed the Taylor Force Act. That was the Act that prohibited American aid from being given to the Palestinians as long as they continued with their “Pay-For-Slay” program, whereby generous lifetime subsidies are given to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of terrorists who died while committing their attacks. The Taylor Force Act did not admit of exceptions; it did not say “you cannot give such aid except to hospitals.” It was meant to cover all aid to the Palestinians, whether “humanitarian” in nature or not. After all, the aid money is fungible; money given, say, to Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem will allow other funds to be transferred by the PA from hospital spending to, for example, paying for weapons that could be used against Israel, or even for the “Pay-For-Slay” program that supports Palestinian terrorists.
The Israeli government and the Biden administration continued on Monday to negotiate possible gestures Jerusalem could make towards the Palestinians. US officials have continued to push for a Palestinian presence at the Allenby crossing to Jordan and 4G cellular Internet, which Israel had rejected on security grounds.
Israel’s security cannot be compromised just so Biden can tell Mahmoud Abbas that he has pressured Israel to make concessions. Israel must retain exclusive control of the Allenby crossing between Israel and Jordan. Israel’s security services believe that allowing the Palestinians access to the 4G cellular internet would. pose security problems, and therefore must be denied However, there are other Israeli concessions that Biden could remind Abbas about. He could note that Israel has just approved another 1,000 apartments for Palestinians to be built in Area C of the West Bank. Israel might also take the occasion of the Lapid–Biden meeting to announce that it has agreed to admit thousands more Palestinians to work in both Israel and the settlements, which should give a further boost to the Palestinian economy.
Right-wing lawmakers and organizations have warned against the visit to east Jerusalem and concessions to the Palestinians.
Several NGOs, including Regavim, Im Tirzu and the ZOA launched a campaign calling on Biden “not to take advantage of the unstable political situation in Israel to squeeze out critical and historic concessions” and for Lapid “not to sell out Israel’s security interests.”
Their ads say: “Not for sale! United Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley are not cards in the political game.”
It would be good if Biden made his visit with Mahmoud Abbas as brief as possible. He doesn’t need to listen to a litany of complaints about those terrible Israelis. If Abbas brings up the “murder” of Abu Akleh, Biden should slap this calumny down at once, saying “our investigation concluded that the journalist’s death was unintentional. It was a tragic accident.” He should announce the gift of American aid to the Arab hospitals in east Jerusalem, and remind Abbas that Israel has just approved permits for 1,000 more apartments to be built for Palestinians in Area C, He could call again, in public, for Abbas to end the “Pay-For-Slay” program that “you know, President Abbas, only rewards past and incentivizes future terrorism.” Finally, he should call on Mahmoud Abbas, ideally in front of the media, to make sure that Palestinian schoolbooks are at long last revised – no more promises to fix them will do, after so many years of similar promises unkept — so that their antisemitic content has been eliminated. Abbas has been treated with kid gloves by the Bidenites long enough. Now would be a good time to take a different tack.