The Biden administration elevated diplomatic relations with the Palestinian government, in what diplomats warn is the first step to walking back the United States’ historic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The State Department confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that a new Office of Palestinian Affairs will be established in Jerusalem and act independently of the U.S. ambassador to Israel’s office there. The formation of a separate diplomatic office bolsters U.S. relations with the Palestinian government and could violate the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which mandated that a single U.S. embassy be established in the holy city.
The State Department also confirmed that it is working to go even further—opening an official Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem wholly independent of the U.S. embassy in Israel. Attempts to establish this diplomatic facility have been stymied by Israel’s opposition to the move, and the recent formation of the Palestinian Affairs office is viewed as a temporary workaround. That would set the stage for Jerusalem to once again be viewed by the United States as divided between Israeli and Palestinian territories.
Former U.S. diplomats who spoke to the Free Beacon about the move said the Biden administration is trying to undermine former president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which eliminated a formal distinction between West and East Jerusalem. By establishing an office dedicated to the Palestinian government in the city, the administration is reopening the possibility of allowing that government to assume control of portions of the city.
"Opening a diplomatic office to the Palestinians in Jerusalem after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, making it clear Jerusalem is part of Israel, has the same disastrous consequences as opening a formal consulate," David Milstein, who served as special assistant to former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, told the Free Beacon. "This decision is a blatant effort to begin to unravel the implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and circumvent Israel's clear opposition to a formal consulate, especially since the Biden administration admits this step is part of its plan to still open a consulate."
The purpose behind this move "is to walk back the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, erode Israel's sovereignty over its capital city, and signal support for dividing Jerusalem. It is outrageous and shameful," Milstein said. "Members of Congress should use every tool at their disposal to block implementation of this decision."
A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, confirmed the creation of the new Palestinian office and said U.S. diplomats in the region are pressing the Israeli government to allow the full reopening of the Palestinian consulate. The Israeli government opposes this move.
The Palestinian affairs office "operates under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and reports on substantive matters directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department," the spokesman said, confirming reports that the ambassador to Israel will no longer be consulted on issues handled by this office.
The Biden administration remains "committed to re-opening our consulate in Jerusalem," the spokesman confirmed. "We continue to believe it is an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people."
Jason Greenblatt, former White House envoy to the Middle East and author of the book In the Path of Abraham, described the decision as a concession to the Palestinian government, which incites terrorism against Israel and pays salaries to convicted militants.
"Even more troubling is the reversal of the chain of command established by the Trump administration," Greenblatt told the Free Beacon. "It is extremely bad practice for reporting on Palestinian affairs to go directly to the State Department without being run through the U.S. ambassador to Israel. So many of the issues they are responsible for are intertwined, and so much can be missed, misconstrued, or manipulated when the chain of command is disrupted."
Greenblatt said his time in the White House showed him that separating this mission aided a "broken system" that appeased Palestinian leadership while harming U.S.-Israeli relations. "By trying to appease the Palestinian leadership with this empty gesture, we hurt our critical ally Israel and we hurt the United States—we hurt our national security, our diplomatic efforts and we waste precious U.S. taxpayer money," he said.
Arsen Ostrovsky, and Israeli human rights attorney who serves as chair and CEO of International Legal Forum, an advocacy group, said the creation of this office marks "a transparent attempt by the Biden Administration to go round the back door, with a de-facto consulate in clear attempt to water down the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital." It also signals that the Biden administration is challenging Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Republican foreign policy leaders also pushed back on the move.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the State Department is circumventing the Israeli government in order to create "an unofficial U.S. consulate" to the Palestinians, in violation of the law.
"I unequivocally oppose this plan for what appears to be a new unofficial U.S. diplomatic mission in Israel’s capital," Hagerty said. "This plan is inconsistent with the full and faithful implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and suggests that the administration is once again trying to undermine America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, said the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act was specifically created to prevent this situation.
"Palestinian Authority leadership has made it abundantly clear that their push for this action is for the purpose of dividing Jerusalem," Zeldin said. "The United States unilaterally making this concession to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for no concessions in return has been proven to be a failed policy time and again."