by Ariel Kahana
Foreign minister assured US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Israel would OK key diplomatic office once state budget passes despite Bennett's opposition," diplomatic source says.
|US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with then-Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021 | File photo: Matty Stern / US Embassy Jerusalem|
Tensions between Israel and the US over Washington's plans to reopen a key diplomatic office to the Palestinians in Jerusalem stem from a lack of coordination between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister and Prime Minister-designate Yair Lapid, according to a diplomatic source with knowledge of the issue.
Lapid offered US Secretary of State Antony Blinken his preliminary commitment the US would be able to reopen the de-facto embassy to the Palestinians in one of his first phone calls with the senior White House official as foreign minister, the official told Israel Hayom.
In his conversations with Blinken, Lapid noted the government's sensitive political make-up and advised Washington to delay the move until after the Knesset passes a budget, a move Lapid explained would ensure government stability in Jerusalem. Blinken accepted Lapid's position, nevertheless working behind the scenes to advance the move inside the US State Department.
Nevertheless, around one month after the so-called "unity government" was sworn in in Jerusalem, Bennett's advisors began to hold talks with US President Joe Biden's administration on the subject. National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and Bennett adviser Shimrit Meir visited the White House in Washington in early August in preparation for the premier's visit. In those talks, the two Israeli officials emphasized Bennett's opposition to the opening of the Palestinian consulate was a matter of principle and unrelated to political timing. Bennett would continue to oppose the move after the budget had passed, they explained.
Administration officials were reportedly surprised by Hulata's and Meir's stance as well as disappointed by the inconsistent Israeli position on the issue. "One of the reasons Blinken announced his intention of opening the consulate last week precisely when Lapid was by his side and with the knowledge Israel opposed [the move] was that Lapid had misled him," the source told Israel Hayom.
US presses ahead with Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said that the Biden administration plans to press ahead with its plan as part of efforts to deepen ties with Palestinians,
However, he stopped short of setting a date for reopening the consulate.
Speaking at a news conference with visiting Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Blinken said, "We'll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening of those ties with the Palestinians."
Lapid has denied the reports, saying he has opposed the opening of a Palestinian consulate from Day 1. He also denied the US planned to unilaterally open the consulate if Israeli officials were unable to reach a decision on the move.
"The prime minister's consistent stance since the beginning of his term has been and remains that there is no room for a consulate in Jerusalem. This position was also relayed during the prime minister's visit to Washington as well as through the strategic adviser in talks with the US administration officials. The foreign minister has consistently expressed [support for] the same position in his talks with the Americans, including during his successful Washington trip," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem and the US State Department declined to comment.
Likud MK Nir Barkat, who has been involved in the issue over the last two months, reiterated that Jerusalem and Washington had agreed the step would be implemented once the state budget has passed.
"The agreement with Lapid and Bennet is for the Americans not to act before the budget is passed to allow for the government's continued existence, but once the budget passes, the plan is for the new [US] Ambassador [to Israel Thomas R.] Nides to arrive in Israel to unilaterally open the de-facto Palestinian consulate. The objective of opening the Palestinian consulate is to determine on the ground Jerusalem as the capital of Palestinian and advance the establishment of a Palestinian state," Barkat said.