J Street welcomes the news that the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the US Embassy in Jerusalem has been renamed the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs,” and will now report directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau at State Department headquarters in Washington. This is a modest but notable step toward restoring the level of bilateral diplomatic engagement with the Palestinians that the United States had, and benefitted from, prior to Donald Trump’s harmful closing of the US Consulate in Jerusalem.
While this is a positive step, we continue to urge the Biden Administration to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem – as the president and senior officials promised to do during his campaign and his presidency – and insist on Israeli cooperation to make that possible. We urge President Biden to push for progress on this issue during his upcoming trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory.
Re-opening the US Consulate and further repairing and restoring American relations with the Palestinian leadership and people are necessary for the interests of both the US and Israel. Indeed, President Biden should emphasize what Israel’s own security experts have said about the benefits of having an independent US consulate in Jerusalem. The Chair of Commanders for Israel’s Security, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Matan Vilnai, has written that “few political/diplomatic measures – with no security downside – can make a greater contribution to strengthening the stature of the PA among Palestinians, stabilize its governance capacity and hence secure the continuity of security coordination, more than reopening of the American consulate.”
There are many countries that continue to maintain consulates in Jerusalem, with the full cooperation of the Israeli government. There is simply no legitimate reason for the Israeli government not to extend the same cooperation to its greatest ally, supporter and defender on the world stage. It’s up to the President of the United States to decide how American diplomacy is structured and where American diplomats are stationed – and we urge the Israeli government to respect his decisions.