Former Jerusalem mayor lobbies against US opening consulate to Palestinians

Former Jerusalem mayor lobbies against US opening consulate to Palestinians
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An Israeli politician and former mayor of Jerusalem is urging the Biden administration to abandon its plans to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, calling such a move a mistake.

Nir Barkat, a member of the opposition party in Israel’s parliament, is in Washington, D.C., meeting with bipartisan lawmakers to promote legislation he introduced last week in Israel that would ban countries from opening new diplomatic missions for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“It's not about the American administration, it's about the fact that we do not want Palestinian consulates to reside in Jerusalem,” Barkat, who served as mayor of the Holy City from 2008 to 2018, said in an interview with The Hill.

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Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden walks fine line with Fox News Blinken to travel to India, Kuwait next week Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral MORE in May announced that the Biden administration is intent on reopening the U.S. consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem. The consulate was shuttered during the Trump administration and its portfolio merged with the embassy when it was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Barkat is a member of the Likud party, headed by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE and who is now leading the opposition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. 

Netanyahu was ousted after 12-years in power by an extraordinary coalition agreement between his former protégé, right-wing politician and current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, along with centrist, left-wing and Arab political parties.

Barkat, who said he has aspirations of becoming prime minister as head of Likud, said the legislation he introduced in the Knesset against new consulates to the Palestinians in Jerusalem is meant to disrupt U.S. plans to reopen its mission. 

“It’s common in the world that if a country sees there’s a legislation [in] process, we don’t force ourselves before it’s over. My expectation, which is a common thing, [is] that now the United States understands that there’s a legislation process of an issue that 75 percent of the Israeli public supports. You don’t rush to decide prior to that process is finalized,” he said.

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Barkat was citing a poll he commissioned of Israel’s public, and viewed by The Hill, which found approximately 72 percent of Israeli voters oppose the U.S. opening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, while 23.4 percent support the move and 4.5 percent are undecided.

Barkat said he rounded up to 75 percent by “taking away” the undecided voters. The survey of more than 500 people was conducted by the polling firm Direct Polls in mid-July.

The Times of Israel reported that Barkat’s bill has 38 co-sponsors, including at least one member from the ruling coalition government, but it is unlikely to advance without further support from members in the majority. 

Ilan Goldenberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, called Barkat’s legislative move “a pretty heavy handed approach” in trying to undermine the Biden administration’s goal of reopening the consulate while also aiming to put pressure on Israel’s ruling coalition. 

“I think that honestly this is more Israeli politicians in the opposition playing politics and trying to put the new government in a difficult position on an issue where they know the U.S. has strong feelings,” he said.

“The Biden administration recognizes it’s a delicate issue for the Israeli government, it’s a delicate political issue. But I think putting that legislation forward two months after the U.S. expressed this interest, is not a helpful step at all.” 

Several countries have consulates in Jerusalem and are used for carrying out relations with the Palestinians, including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Italy and the Vatican, to name a few. Like the U.S., many of these were established in the late 19th and early 20th century before the State of Israel was declared in 1948. 

Barkat said his legislation is focused on preventing any new consulates from being established. He said he has organized at least eight meetings with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill as he looks to drum up support.