Israeli security officials call for reopening US Consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem

More than 300 former generals and top security officials in Israel on Monday put their support behind the U.S. reopening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem that was closed by the Trump administration in 2019.

Israel’s conservative, right-wing prime minister and others have voiced opposition to President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE’s intent to reopen the consulate, warning it would undermine Israel’s claim to the Holy City as the undivided capital of the Jewish people.

But in the letter organized by Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a nonpartisan organization of former officials spanning senior security agencies in Israel, members argue that the reopening is in Israel’s national security interest. 

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“[T]he government should weigh carefully the effect of opposing the American move at a time when our leaders are united in the wish to improve relations with the Democratic party in the service of our vital national security interest of restoring the bipartisan support we enjoyed until no too long ago,” read the letter, which was sent to member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and the Israeli Cabinet. 

It was signed by CIS Chair Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matan Vilnai, former deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The CIS organization is composed of more than 300 retired generals of the IDF and retired officials from Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service; Shin Bet, its internal security service; its police and National Security Council heads.

The CIS letter argues that allowing the reopening would strengthen the Palestinian Authority (PA), the internationally-recognized representatives of the Palestinian people that is based in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Maintaining support for, and increasing the popularity of, the PA is an important goal for Israeli security officials, which partner with PA security forces in combatting terrorism and crime, and is seen as a counter to the influence of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. Israel and Hamas fought a dramatic 11-day war in May. 

“Against that backdrop, you will do well to consider the contribution of renewing consulate operations on our security — given its positive effect on the stability of the PA and its security coordination with our forces, and on the strategic objective of restoring bipartisan support for Israel in Washington,” the CIS letter read.

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is opposed to the Biden administration’s efforts to reopen a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, reportedly telling a Democratic delegation visiting Jerusalem last week that he would block such an effort by the U.S. 

Opposition has also come from Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist who is expected to take over the premiership in a rotation with Bennett. He said the U.S. should open a consulate to the Palestinians in Ramallah instead of Jerusalem.

The Israeli government reportedly asked the Biden administration to hold off reopening the consulate until the coalition, which formed earlier this year, could pass a budget for the country and secure its rule for at least a year, which it did on Nov. 4.

But since then, the Biden administration has made little public moves to reopen the consulate. The original building that housed the consulate is located east of Jerusalem’s central downtown area.  

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE’s decision to close the U.S. Consulate to the Palestinians in 2019 — following his moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — served as powerful acts of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

This distinction is withheld by the majority of the international community, which wants the final status of Jerusalem to be decided in direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, who want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. 

Since 2019, the U.S. has run its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians out of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. During the Trump administration, the former consulate building served as the temporary residence of the then-U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.