By Lahav Harkov
(JULY 11, 2022 / JPOST) U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to reaffirm his intention to open a consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem during his trip to Israel this week, without announcing any progress on the matter, a U.S. official said Monday.
A senior Israeli diplomatic source also said a consulate for the Palestinians is not on the agenda for Biden’s visit.
The top items on Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s agenda for his meeting with Biden are the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, Iran and Israel’s integration in the region, the Israeli source said, referring to an expected announcement of advances in ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinians will also be a topic of discussion, and Russia’s war on Ukraine comes up in all of the prime minister’s conversations with Western leaders, the source added.
Biden promised during his election campaign to reopen the consulate, which formerly operated out of Jerusalem. However, the Trump administration closed it when it moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. The functions and staff of the former consulate were called the “Palestinian Affairs Unit,” which worked under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy.
Last month, the U.S. State Department upgraded the office to the Palestinians in Jerusalem without opening a consulate. It changed the name to the “U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem,” and it is allowing it to report directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department.
Aid to Palestinians
Biden plans to announce an aid package for Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem during a visit to a medical center near the Mount of Olives on Friday. The visit will not be accompanied by Israelis, and it will be within the framework of his meetings with Palestinians, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
The Israeli government and the Biden administration on Monday continued to negotiate possible gestures Jerusalem could make toward the Palestinians. U.S. officials have pushed for a Palestinian presence at the Allenby crossing to Jordan and 4G cellular Internet for the Palestinians, which Israel has rejected on security grounds.
Other elements of Biden’s schedule had yet to be finalized on Monday, such as whether he will visit the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem.
Cabinet ministers received invitations to greet Biden on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport, along with the warning that they will not be able to shake hands or take “personal photos” with the president. When U.S. president Donald Trump visited Israel, then-Likud MK Oren Hazan snuck into the welcome ceremony and took a selfie with Trump.
Ministers were also invited to the ceremony at the President’s Residence, at which President Isaac Herzog will award Biden with the Presidential Medal of Honor.
Netanyahu’s Saudi Arabia Promises
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu promised to bring peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia if he returns to the premiership.
“President Biden’s visit is an important one, not only because as a friend of Israel he expresses the strong alliance between Israel and the U.S., but also because he is flying from here to Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said.
The flight is “an expression of the massive change we made in the Middle East in the last decade,” he said.
Netanyahu also expressed his appreciation for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s contribution to the Abraham Accords, likely a reference to the Kingdom giving tacit approval to the UAE and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel.
The first flights to and from Israel over Saudi airspace – by Air India – were achieved during his tenure as prime minister, he said. Biden is expected to announce that Israeli airlines will be able to fly over Saudi Arabia, as well.
“If I lead the State of Israel again… I plan to bring full peace agreements with Saudi Arabia and additional Arab states,” Netanyahu said.
Right wing lawmakers and organizations have warned against the visit to east Jerusalem and concessions to the Palestinians.
Several NGOs, including Regavim, Im Tirzu and the Zionist Organization of America, launched a campaign calling on Biden “not to take advantage of the unstable political situation in Israel to squeeze out critical and historic concessions,” and for Lapid “not to sell out Israel’s security interests.”
Their ads say: “Not for sale! United Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley are not cards in the political game.”
This article was originally published in JPost and can be viewed here.