Biden has promised to reopen the closed Jerusalem consulate Trump closed. But can he?

Many in the Israeli unity government strongly oppose the reopening of the embassy. "We will not compromise on this," the justice minister said last month.


With the long strands of the bougainvillea pulled from its balcony, the mansion on Agron Road in Jerusalem may seem like an unexpected stage for a test of interest between the rulers of Biden and the coalition government of Israel.

Until 2018, the stone building housed the US Consulate in Jerusalem and the American diplomatic mission to the Palestinians. But Trump's administration shut it down and merged it with the new US Ambassador to the city, Israel's capital.

It sent a clear message: Relations with Palestinians have been reduced to a portfolio within US-Israeli relations.

President Joe Biden took office promising to reopen the consulate and use it to rebuild social relations with the Palestinian people.

Ten months later, the consulate remains closed despite strong opposition to the reopening of several ministers in the Israeli unity government. Israeli rights take it as a symbol of US aspirations to divide Jerusalem one day as the shared capital of both Israel and the future state of Palestine - a view they say is totally unacceptable to them.

"We will not compromise on this," Gideon Saar, Israel's Israeli justice minister, said at a conference last month, adding that he and Prime Minister Naphtali Bennett were "on the same side" on the issue.

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The ambassador also took on the symbolic significance of the Palestinian Authority, but for very different reasons.

"We want the American Consulate to make the seeds of the American embassy in the Palestinian Territory," said Mohamed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, in a Facebook post in September.

The Israeli right-wing opposition party has left consulate plans in limbo. Legally, the US needs Israel's permission to open it, which means that Biden's management cannot simply ignore the government's position.

But State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a press conference on Wednesday that the US was "clear about our intentions" to reopen the facility.

The issue is one of the latest in a series of clashes between Jerusalem and Washington over Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Late last month the US joined the United Nations in criticizing Israel's decision to authorize more than 3,000 homes in the West Bank - the first major expansion of housing since the country's government took office in June.

The State Department called the move "completely inconsistent with efforts to reduce tensions" although no further action was taken.

The US has also said it has not received a warning that Israel plans to appoint six Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations before doing so last month. Israel has accused these groups of putting resources into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist group.

All six have denied the allegations and accused Israel of trying to silence groups that point out the abuses perpetrated by Israeli security forces.

Shawan Jabarin, director of one of the parties, Al-Haq, has called on the White House to put pressure on Israel to postpone the nomination.

"This is a test of Biden's slogans that human rights and the rule of law are fundamental to American policy," he told NBC News in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It's time to translate slogans into action."

At the forefront of Israel's foreign policy is now, however, Iran, not the Palestinians. The country's ministers focused on Tehran during meetings with their American counterparts, and Bennett reiterated his first visit to the White House with Biden, in August.

They expressed concern over Biden's promise to join Iran's nuclear deal, with former President Donald Trump ousting the US in 2018. The agreement is based on Iran agreeing to accept sanctions on its nuclear program in order to lift US sanctions. and five other world powers.

The issue will be raised between talks between the US and Iran that will resume in Vienna this month after a five-month break following the election of Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-liner, as president.

Politicians from all political parties in Israel are opposed to the agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saying it has never been strong enough to stop Iran from trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran has been saying it does not want such a weapon and that its nuclear program is designed for public purposes.

While former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly protested against talks with Iran, the current government is voicing its concern to Biden officials in private.

Two Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told NBC News on Wednesday that they were encouraged by the latest language change from the US

"Every choice was on the table" regarding Iran's nuclear program, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS '"Face the Nation" on Sunday, although he emphasized that Biden officials believe diplomacy is the best way forward.