The importance of inner strength is one of my major themes: Now, now especially, when the world has gone bonkers and is sliding leftward, we need to know who we are, understand our rights and stand for them.
I recently wrote about the issue of the American desire – or perhaps more accurately, intention – to open a consulate/diplomatic mission on Agron Street in western Jerusalem to serve Palestinian Arabs (in essence establishing a de facto embassy).
At that time I indicated that our government was opposed and had told the Biden administration so. The question was whether they would hold fast under intense American pressure.
But earlier this week, a “political source” in the Israeli government close to the situation reported that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) had given the go-ahead to opening that consulate in a phone conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured) about a week after the new government had been formed in mid-June. He requested, however, that the Americans wait until after the budget was passed, at which point the government would have achieved greater stability. Reportedly, he led them to believe that Prime Minister Bennett was on board with this. Thus, says this report, Blinken was shocked when Bennett subsequently came out against the consulate opening
Lapid denies this report. And indeed, in the beginning of September he came out with a statement that opening the consulate was a “bad idea” because it could threaten the stability of the government. This was a very weak argument, but it would have played to the Americans: better for them to deal with the current coalition than a right-wing one led by Likud. There are far more powerful reasons for not opening it, but I don’t know that Lapid addressed these.
At any rate, according to MK Nir Barkat (Likud, pictured), who has been working on this issue from the opposition, Bennett is actually on board as well for allowing the consulate to open. Barkat says when Thomas Nides, the new American ambassador to Israel, arrives, he will be opening the consulate unilaterally (which is what Eugene Kontorovich had warned might happen). Barkat’s assumption here is that Bennett would passively allow it to happen.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionists) offered a very similar perspective.
We will know in short order how this story plays out. I have returned to it a second time here because it has major implications: opening of that consulate/diplomatic mission for the PA in Jerusalem undercuts Israel’s position that a united Jerusalem is our capital eternally. If the American administration did not wish to lend credence to the claim by the Palestinian Authority that Jerusalem is their capital, they would be opening a diplomatic mission to the PA in Ramallah, instead, where other nations have theirs.
The US Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 passed into law by the vote of the Senate (93–5) and the House (374–37). The Act recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city. And it provided for the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all utilized a waiver clause built into the law to delay the move of the Embassy to Jerusalem.
On June 5, 2017, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of reunification of Jerusalem. President Trump then began the process of moving the Embassy. Official relocation took place on May 14, 2018, the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern State of Israel.
What the Biden administration is attempting to do now subverts the intent of the Embassy Act and undermines Israeli legitimacy in Jerusalem.
It was not long after the formation of the current administration that Bennett began delivering his message that his coalition would be friends with the Democrats in the US, in contrast to the Netanyahu government which had focused on the Republicans, neglecting this important aspect of Israel’s relationship with the US. With this he sought to convince us that he had superior diplomatic skills and would be able to accomplish more. Never mind that for the most part supporters of Israel are found in the Republican Party.
After Bennett met with Biden in Washington in late September, we were presented with a picture of sweetness and light. Describing the meeting as “excellent,” Bennett declared from the Oval Office: “I bring with me a new spirit, a spirit of good will, a spirit of hope, a spirit of decency and honesty, a spirit of unity and bipartisanship…” You have the idea. There is a very large gag quotient here.
Biden, for his part, enthused that “We’ve become close friends!” Really?
It did not take long for the cracks in this carefully constructed façade to show – cracks that were there from the get-go, which anyone who was really watching already knew.
Biden declares himself firmly committed to Israel’s “security.” But it’s a question of definition, is it not? At the UN, he stated that he believed formation of a “viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state” was the best way to secure Israel’s future.
He acknowledged that “We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.” (Emphasis added)
Biden’s reference to a “democratic Palestinian state,” was a cheap throw-away, designed to provide cover for what he intends, which is promotion of a Palestinian state. Period. The autocratic, corrupt, repressive PA will never morph into a democratic state, and everyone knows this.
Biden is dead serious, however, about a Palestinian state that is sovereign and viable. And he has put the world, including Israel, on notice that this is what he is pushing for.
“Not giving up on the possibility of progress” refers to a number of positions the US is taking with regard to fostering that state: opposing any Jewish building in Judea & Samaria, objecting to the demolition of illegally built Arab housing in Area C, etc. I will be dealing with these issues in future postings.
A key goal of the Biden administration right now is working diplomatically to ensure the PA has a foothold in Jerusalem via that consulate.
While pushing for the consulate is only one facet of the declared US policy regarding a Palestinian state, it is a particularly serious aspect of the whole. And it leads us to conclude that Biden – with the encouragement of his advisors – is taking a maximalist position on that Palestinian state. It would have been possible for him to acknowledge that US law and policy recognize Jerusalem united as solely the capital of Israel, and then pump for a Palestinian state with Ramallah or Abu Dis as its capital. But this is not what he did.
And it gets worse. Nadav Shragai, writing in Israel Hayom today, tells us that according to Al Quds, “The move was commended by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh who expressed hope it [the diplomatic mission/consulate on Agron] would ‘lay the foundation for a future US embassy in the Palestinian state.’” (Emphasis added)
Let that sink in, my friends: the PA prime minister reportedly hopes that the Palestinian state will encompass western Jerusalem. We are not speaking “just” about a demand – illegitimate in itself—that Jerusalem be divided with the eastern part of the city belong to a Palestinian state.
Shragai further indicated that the Biden administration hopes to also open a consulate (providing consular services) for Palestinian Arabs in eastern Jerusalem. This strengthens the sense that the “consulate” on Agron Street would be a diplomatic mission with a completely different function.
“According to reports, Washington has already held talks with Palestinian [Arab] leaders with regard to this.”
There is no way that the opening by the US of the consulate/diplomatic mission in Jerusalem can be seen as anything but a very bad move for Israel, violating Israel’s rights and challenging Israel’s claim to united Jerusalem as her eternal capital.
The buck on this stops with Naftali Bennett. He yearned to be prime minister of Israel, and at long last he has achieved that goal.
Now it is his responsibility to take such actions as are necessary to protect the interests of the State of Israel. There must be no equivocating on this.
The various rumors that are floating generate an enormous unease as to how this will end. There should be no rumors and reports, it should all be clean and clear. The fear is that he will either cave to US pressure, or allow himself to be convinced that sustaining his “friendship” with Biden takes priority and he does not wish to ruffle American feathers. But sometimes feathers must be ruffled, and that is what standing strong is about.
International law professor Eugene Kontorovich has spelled out the ways in which Israel can block the intentions of the US to move unilaterally with regard to the consulate, simply opening it without permission:
“Israel needs to spell out now that it will not accept a fait accompli. A diplomatic mission needs many things from the host government, from diplomatic visas and license plates to security coordination. If Bennett and Lapid want to deter the United States from attempting hardball tactics, they should declare now that the government will in no way recognize a new diplomatic mission opened without its consent.” (Emphasis added)
Kontorovich includes Lapid above. But what of him?
He has come out forthrightly with his support for a “two-state solution.” Yet my point stands: Such a “solution,” as wrong-headed as it may be in any terms, does not require the relinquishing of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Arabs. It would be possible to support a Palestinian state and still stand strong for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. If he, as Israel’s foreign minister, is on board for opening of the consulate, it is a serious matter. Lapid has shown himself to be a diplomatic novice and something of a buffoon. He is tone deaf with regard to diplomatic subtleties. He may come out on the right side of the matter here, but I am not confident. Especially is this the case in light of the rumors that are floating.
Lapid is emblematic of the underlying problem with Israel’s current government. It would actually be impossible to speak of a governmental consensus on this issue – a position that represents the stand of the major part of the government. For what we are looking at is a pastiche of various political parties with vastly divergent views.
Bennett has regularly defined himself as right wing, as is his Yamina party. Gideon Sa’ar and his New Hope party are right-wing as well. But the coalition includes Meretz and Labor and the Islamic party Ra’am.
This troublesome government configuration might also be affecting Bennett’s position on the consulate. Repeatedly, he cautions that everyone should hang together, not taking positions that might break apart the coalition. We must hope that Bennett would not refrain from taking a position that is detrimental to Israel simply to avoid coalition tensions.
Lastly here I want to call your attention to Biden’s proclivity for bringing on board in his administration officials, many carry-overs from the Obama administration, who are distinctly anti-Israel. This should have served as a warning in terms of what we might expect. Cheap words aside, we had no reason to think Biden would be a consistent or strong friend to Israel.
I note in particular Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, who was born in Lebanon and grew up in Saudi Arabia. A small sampling of his previous statements and positions will suffice here:
“I have news for every Israeli,” he said in 2002, “[Arabs] now have televisions, and they will never, never forget what the Israeli people, the Israeli military and Israeli democracy have done to Palestinian children. And there will be thousands who will seek to avenge these brutal murders of innocents.”
He has accused Israel of being apartheid and practicing ethnic cleansing and has urged that “Muslim Brotherhood organizations across the Muslim World should be engaged.”
So you see, my friends, now is the time to stand strong for Israel.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.