October 31, 2021
The former U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, July 19, 2009. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Last Wednesday, in response to a question from Senator Bill Hagerty, (R-Tenn.), U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Brian McKeon admitted in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that under both U.S. and international law, the United States cannot open a consulate in Jerusalem without Israel's consent. In other words, the prospect of the Biden administration opening a consulate to the Palestinians in Israel's capital city without requesting Israel's permission to violate Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem is off the table.
Given the Biden administration's near-obsessive determination to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, it's just a matter of time before it presents an offer it believes Israel will be unable to refuse.
On Friday, Israeli financial daily Globes published the outline of such an offer. In exchange for an Israeli "concession to the Palestinians," U.S. officials claim Saudi Arabia will open limited economic ties with Israel. Moreover, the United States will provide limited visa exemptions to Israeli tourists.
The article suggests — and congressional sources warn — that the "concession to the Palestinians" Israel will be required to make is permission for the United States to open a consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians.
This brings us to the apparent U.S. offer. Its paltriness is as breathtaking as it is insulting. As the Globes article noted, Israel and Saudi Arabia already conduct economic exchanges, including trade deals through Abraham Accords partners the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Israel also reportedly has enjoyed strong security ties with Saudi Arabia for the past several years, which have benefited both nations.
The Globes article reported that Saudi participation in the Abraham Accords, which involve full normalization of economic and diplomatic ties between Israel and the participating Arab states, is not on the table. To date, Saudi King Salman has opposed joining the Abraham Accords directly.
At the same time, he permitted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to play a key role in designing them and shepherding them forward. While King Salman is not expected to change his position, while Donald Trump was president, most observers believed that MBS would bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords and fully normalize Saudi ties with Israel once he took over. In recent months, in response to the Biden administration's open animosity towards Saudi Arabia generally and MBS in particular, Saudi foreign policy has become increasingly contradictory and MBS's hold on power has weakened.
Given the uncertainty, Israel's best move in relation to Saudi Arabia is to sit on the sidelines and allow internal Saudi processes to unfold. If MBS becomes the monarch and his Trump-era positions remain unchanged, he will normalize ties with Israel regardless of the nature of the U.S. presence in Jerusalem. If MBS is deposed in favor of another prince who succeeds King Salman, the likelihood that Saudi Arabia will scupper its ties with Israel — whatever their level — is very high. So whatever Saudi Arabia offers Israel today will be easily reversed.
On the other hand, if Israel agrees to permit the operation of a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, the damage will be irreversible.
If Israel approves the Biden administration's request to open a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, it will undercut its greatest achievement during the Trump presidency — U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. By opening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, the United States will effectively abrogate U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and transfer that recognition to the Palestinians. Israeli approval of the United States' request will automatically be interpreted by everyone as an Israeli renunciation of Israel's sovereign rights to Jerusalem.
Apologists for the Biden administration, and Israeli leftists, will claim that the Jerusalem deal on the table is just a new version of the deal Israel made with the UAE last year. But this is completely wrong. The UAE offered Israel full peace. The deal reportedly being discussed with the Saudis is far more limited.
More importantly, in exchange for full diplomatic and economic ties with the UAE, Israel agreed to temporarily place a hold on its plan to apply its laws in parts of Judea and Samaria, in furtherance of then-President Donald Trump's peace plan. Israel can decide to end the hold and implement the sovereignty plan at any point.
In the case at hand, however, Israel's concession is irrevocable regardless of who leads the government in Jerusalem. Here Israel isn't being asked to put its plans on hold. The Biden administration is asking Israel to permit the United States to subvert Israel's sovereign rights and control over Jerusalem by giving the Palestinians the power to challenge and undermine all aspects of Israel's municipal and national operations in Jerusalem, with American backing.
This brings us to the second "gift" the Biden administration is apparently offering Israel — limited visa exemption for U.S. entry to Israeli tourists. The offer itself is an expression of U.S. contempt, rather than good will towards Israel. No country concedes its sovereignty over its capital city to make it easier for its citizens to vacation in America.
As McKeon admitted, Jerusalem's fate is in Israel's hands. The government needs to recognize that no offer — certainly not the absurdity now being bandied about — is worth sacrificing the capital.