Despite pressure from US and international communities, plans to relocate US Consulate from West Bank to East Jerusalem are still on the table
Israel doubles down against US, saying there is no room in Jerusalem for an American Consulate for Palestinians
Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has doubled down on his country’s opposition to a proposed US plan to relocate its permanent mission to the disputed city of Jerusalem, vowing there was “no room” in East Jerusalem for an American Consulate for Palestinians.
The comments by Lieberman at a party conference also came as Palestinian media reported talks were taking place in the US to decide on the venue for an American diplomatic presence in Jerusalem.
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The US, which under Donald Trump has followed Israel’s longstanding settlement policy in the occupied territories and resumed moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, says it is not currently committed to relocating its consular embassy.
The Israeli government and American officials involved in the Jerusalem Embassy Act effort say they will need a change of US law to return to the embassy’s original location in the West Bank.
The House of Representatives passed a bill in April allowing the president to move the embassy without congressional approval – provided the president consults with Congress first. The bill has not yet passed the Senate.
Addressing a gathering of politicians and party officials at his weekly press conference on Thursday, Lieberman pointed to the cost of moving and maintaining a US Consulate for Jerusalem’s Palestinians.
“I see how much the American Consulate for East Jerusalem is costing the American taxpayer – an eye-popping sum,” he said. “We do not have time to be wasting. We’re going to begin building a US consulate in Beit El [a settlement near the Palestinian city of Ramallah], 100% of the Palestinians will be fully integrated, and it won’t cost us anything.”
Jerusalem is widely seen in the West as the eastern part of the city that remains Israel’s capital after the 1967 war. But while Israelis have had contiguous territory under their control since that war, Palestinians say East Jerusalem is their future capital. A majority of international community countries say the city is occupied territory.
Lieberman said the Palestinians would find in Jerusalem a consulate that would “meet every Palestinian need”. He said: “They may look at the area around Beit El and see much more space to build their centres for higher education.”
East Jerusalem is one of the most difficult and sensitive areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The small, ethnically mixed neighbourhood of Abu Dis, a good 30 minutes’ drive from the West Bank city of Ramallah, has no major hotels, restaurants or other visible signs of large-scale Jewish settlement activity in the area.
East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel shortly after its 1967 victory and is home to some 200,000 Jewish Israelis, among the more than 300,000 Israeli settlers who now live on occupied Palestinian land.
It also houses several large, remote Jewish settlements, all largely beyond the reach of the Israeli army. The western Wall, in an area of occupied territory divided between Israel and the West Bank, is heavily guarded by the army and Israeli security services.