Secretary of State Antony Blinken elevated Palestinian claims to Jerusalem during a keynote speech on Sunday before the anti-Israel group J Street, which Blinken described as "a remarkable organization."
While the Biden administration "continues to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital," it is "central to the national visions of both Palestinians and Israelis, and must be a city for all of its people," Blinken said. He also touted the Biden administration’s renewed engagement with the Palestinian government, which includes nearly $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer aid, and accused "Israeli settlers" of perpetrating violence against Palestinians, a line that drew applause from J Street’s crowd.
The secretary’s comments about Jerusalem raised eyebrows with pro-Israel leaders in Congress, particularly as the Biden administration seeks to elevate diplomatic ties with the Palestinian government by reopening a Palestinian Affairs consulate in the city. This decision has drawn accusations that the administration is working with the Palestinians to erode Israel’s sovereignty over the city. Groups like J Street opposed the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, calling it "a reckless decision that brings with it no tangible benefits."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Washington Free Beacon that Blinken’s comments are an effort by the Biden administration to "elevate Palestinian claims" to Jerusalem.
"The Biden administration is committed to leveling the claims between the Palestinians and Israel to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal and unified capital," Cruz said. "If they could move our embassy out of Jerusalem they would, but they’re not prepared to pay the political price that would incur. So instead, they intend to elevate the Palestinian claims, most notably by trying to open a Palestinian-facing consulate in the city. It’s both predictable and abhorrent."
A State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that "Jerusalem itself is a final status issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." The spokesman added that the "U.S. position is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel" and that "the United States is committed to keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which we recognize as Israel’s capital."
Blinken’s engagement with J Street—an activist group that has positioned itself as the leading critic of incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—sparked concerns within the State Department and drew outrage from prominent pro-Israel groups, which accused the secretary of seeking to undermine Netanyahu’s government by elevating J Street’s far-left mission. Amid this criticism, Blinken told J Street attendees that he regularly consults with the group on Israel issues and that its views "inform our thinking" at the State Department.
Following Blinken’s remarks, J Street doubled down on its anti-Netanyahu agenda, writing in a Monday fundraising pitch that "with right-wing extremists coming to power in Israel and threatening to ramp up settlement construction, crack down on Palestinian rights, and undermine Israel’s own democratic institutions, J Street’s mission is more urgent than ever."
Blinken told the J Street crowd that his administration will be closely monitoring the Israeli government and is ready to call out any efforts that undermine peace with the Palestinians.
The Biden administration will "unequivocally oppose any acts that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution, including, but not limited to, [Israeli] settlement expansion; moves toward annexation of the West Bank; disruption to the historic status quo at holy sites; demolitions and evictions; and incitement to violence," Blinken said, also to applause.
Palestinians, Blinken added, "do not enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, or opportunity."
Blinken also warned Netanyahu’s governing collation that his administration will be pressuring it to adopt more liberal policies, particularly on LGBT issues.
"We’ll continue to express our support for core democratic principles, including respect for the rights of the LGBT community and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel," Blinken said. "We will gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities. We will hold it to the mutual standards we have established in our relationship over the past seven decades. And we will speak honestly and respectfully with our Israeli friends, as partners always should."
Speaking on the Abraham Accords, the Trump-brokered peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Blinken said these deals are no substitute for peace with the Palestinians.
"For all of its benefits," Blinken said, "normalization between Israel and its neighbors is not a substitute for building peace between Israelis and Palestinians."