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Israel Knesset members urge US to reopen East Jerusalem consulate

The Arab Joint List's letter to Blinken stressed that East Jerusalem is the 'capital of the State of Palestine'
The entrance to the US Consulate in Jerusalem on 18 October 2018, before its operations were merged with Israel's US embassy (AFP)

The Arab Joint List, a political alliance representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, has sent a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urging him to reopen the US General Consulate in occupied East Jerusalem.

The consulate, which served Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip, was shut down in March 2019 by the former US administration of Donald Trump.

The Joint List's letter to Blinken said that though Israeli officials oppose the US decision to reopen the mission, such a step is essential "to create the right conditions for a meaningful peace process".

'The closure of the historic US consulate went hand in hand with the promotion of an illegal annexation process, supporting the idea of Greater Israel that will forever control the lives of millions of Palestinians'

- letter from Arab List MPs

"Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures, freedom, security, dignity and prosperity," the letter said.

In May, Blinken announced that the US is planning to reopen its consulate in East Jerusalem, reiterating US President Joe Biden's position during his election campaign in 2020.

Biden said he would keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, which was moved from Tel Aviv during Trump tenure in 2018, and would reopen the consulate in East Jerusalem, "to engage the Palestinians," which served as a diplomatic channel and autonomous offices to keep ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The US consulate in East Jerusalem had served Palestinians for almost 175 years under several powers who controlled the holy city.

The Arab Joint List, which has six members in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said that the Trump administration has taken "dangerous steps that in many cases went to the right of some extreme sectors of Israel".

"The closure of the historic US consulate went hand in hand with the promotion of an illegal annexation process, supporting the idea of Greater Israel that will forever control the lives of millions of Palestinians, while downgrading the status of the Palestinian people to an office within the US embassy to Israel," the letter said.

The letter stressed that East Jerusalem is "the capital of the State of Palestine" and that treating Palestinians and Israelis as equals "means having separate diplomatic missions for both peoples."

Following the US embassy transfer to Jerusalem, the Trump administration assigned all the diplomatic and visa tasks of the consulate, which dealt with Palestinians, to a small unit within the mission.

The letter said that a US political decision is needed to ensure equality, freedom and ending the Israeli occupation over East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which will lead to Palestinians and Israelis living in two democratic states, and contribute to peace and building confidence toward the US in the Middle East.

"Failure to do that will play into the hands of those working to perpetuate an untenable system of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which contradicts the basic interests of a just and lasting peace that the vast majority of the inhabitants of this region share," the letter concluded.

It was signed by Ayman Odeh, the head of Arab Joint List faction, Ahmed Tibi, Sami Abu Shehadeh, Ofer Cassif, Osama Saadi, and Tuma Suleiman.

'Bad idea'

Several Israeli officials in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett government have opposed the US plan.

In September, Yair Lapid, Israel's foreign minister, slammed the Biden administration's plan to reopen the US consulate to provide diplomatic outreach to Palestinians, warning it could destabilise Bennett's fragile coalition government.

"We think it's a bad idea," Lapid said. "Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel and Israel alone, and therefore, we don't think it's a good idea."

Lapid reminded the US administration of the current Israeli government's volatile formation, which includes parties from left to right, and from secular to religious.

"We have an interesting and yet delicate structure of our government and we think this might destabilise this government, and I don't think the American administration wants this to happen," Lapid said.