Leonard Grunstein

Consular Dilettantism

Should the US open a Consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to serving only non-Jewish residents of the areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, governed by the PA and Hamas, respectively?

The whole notion of opening a separate official Consulate office outside of the regular US Embassy in a country is for the purpose of serving as a convenience to US citizens and other legitimate US business purposes in a foreign country. Why then open a Consulate in a location that is not convenient for the intended constituency to be served? Why not in Ramallah, where the PA maintains its government offices or in Gaza City?

Moreover, the proposed Consulate is to be set aside only to serve so-called Palestinians; why are the approximately sixty thousand US citizens, who happen to be Jewish and reside in Judea, Samaria and beyond the so-called Green line in Jerusalem, excluded? Is ‘Jim Crow’ the new policy of choice at the State Department?

Consider too the anomalous character of this initiative. Congress passed a law last year[i] requiring the US open a Consulate in Tibet. Yet, to this day there is no Consulate in China serving Tibetans. Nor for that matter, is there a Consulate in Turkey serving only the Kurds; China serving only the Uyghur Muslims; Myanmar serving only the Rohingya Muslims; or China serving only the needs of Taiwanese visiting China or doing business there.

One simple answer is that under Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the consent of the receiving State is required before any such Consulate may be established. Presumably, the receiving States just said no or the request was never made because a negative reaction was expected. Why then the double standard when it comes to Israel? Given that Israel has repeatedly said no[ii], shouldn’t this end the discussion? Indeed, it is reported[iii], Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid told US Secretary of State Blinken that Jerusalem should not be allowed to host diplomatic missions that aren’t to Israel. He also argued that reopening the consulate would “send the wrong message” to the Palestinians.

It would also send the wrong message to the world. After Afghanistan, trust in US commitments is eroding. Just reflect on the temerity of China’s brazen and provocative incursions on Taiwanese airspace, in the aftermath of the US’ abrupt and undignified exit from Afghanistan.

We also just celebrated the first anniversary of the historic and inspiring Abraham Accords. It was the impetus of having the US as a trusted ally and friend, as a part of a reliable and powerful nexus with Israel and as a deterrent to the Iranian Government’s quest for hegemony in the region, which, in no small measure, played a part in promoting these peace treaties. In this regard, the Trump Administrations’ recognition of Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, was tangible proof that the US could be counted on to be a loyal friend and ally. The mixed messaging of prior administrations, which sought to flirt with everyone, had created a perception that it was not a genuine friend to anyone. This new consular initiative, devoid of any practical utility, is all too reminiscent of the misadventures of the past. Let’s be clear, despite President Biden’s clear and unqualified declaration that the US Embassy would remain in Jerusalem, there suddenly appears to be some ambiguity on the subject of Jerusalem. However, it is suggested that no such equivocation is legally proper or desirable.

In 1995, the US Congress, virtually unanimously passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act[iv]. It provides[v] that Jerusalem should remain an undivided city, in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected, and Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. President Biden (then Senator) in his remarks on the Senate floor[vi] urging its passage stated:

 Madam President, thank you very much. I would like to thank my colleague from California for her leadership in bringing about what I think is a workable piece of legislation.

I would like to thank Senator Moynihan, who is not here. In 1983, he started this process. He argued we should be doing this, and we are finally getting there.

With regard to the last point made by my colleague from Connecticut about the peace process, I have had the view for the past 24 years that the only way there will be peace in the Middle East is for the Arabs to know there is no division between the United States and Israel–none, zero, none.

I argue that is why we are where we are today, because we did not relent under the leadership of this President and others. We made it clear that no wedge would be put between us, thereby leaving no alternative but the pursuit, in an equitable manner, for peace.

Those familiar, and all are on this floor, with the Jewish people know the central meaning that the ancient city of Jerusalem has for Jews everywhere. Time and again, empires have tried to sever the umbilical cord that unites Jews with their capital.

They have destroyed the temple. They have banished the Jews from living in Jerusalem. They have limited the number of Jews allowed to immigrate to that city. And, finally, in this century, they tried simply to eliminate Jews.

(Mr. KYL assumed the chair.)

They may have succeeded, Mr. President, in destroying physical structures and lives. But they have never succeeded in wholly eliminating Jewish presence in Jerusalem, or in cutting the spiritual bond between Jews and their cherished capital.

After the horrific events of the Holocaust, the Jewish people returned to claim what many rulers have tried to deny them for centuries: The right to peaceful existence in their own country in their own capital.

How many of us can forget that poignant photograph of an unnamed Israeli soldier breaking down in tears and prayer as he reached the Western Wall after his army liberated the eastern half of the city in the Six Day War?

Those tears told a story. A story of a people long denied their rightful place among nations. A people denied access to their most hallowed religious sites. A people who had finally, after long tribulation, come home.

Mr. President, it is unconscionable for us to refuse to recognize the right of the Jewish people to choose their own capital. What gives us the right to second-guess their decision? For 47 years, we, and much of the rest of the international community, have been living a lie.

For 47 years, Israel has had its government offices, its Parliament, and its national monuments in Jerusalem, not in Tel Aviv. And yet, nearly all embassies are located in Tel Aviv. I think this is a denial of fundamental reality.

Mr. President, are we, through the continued sham of maintaining our Embassy in Tel Aviv, to refuse to acknowledge what the Jewish people know in their hearts to be true? Regardless of what others may think, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

And Israel is not just any old country. It is a vital strategic ally.

As the Israelis and Palestinians begin the final status negotiations in May 1996–negotiations, I might add, that were made possible through the leadership of President Clinton–it should be clear to all that the United States stands squarely behind Israel, our close friend and ally.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will send the right signal, not a destructive signal. To do less would be to play into the hands of those who will try their hardest to deny Israel the full attributes of statehood.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

The prescient wisdom embodied in these plainspoken and forthright words requires no further explanation; they have proven true. The extraordinary progress made with the Abraham Accords is a testament to their veracity, as is the exciting prospect of further agreements being made expanding the circle of peace. It took the efforts of many enlightened Senators and Members of the House of Representatives, interested in doing what was right and just, to bring this vision of US recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel to fruition. President Trump finally determined to end the useless and counterproductive practice of Presidential waivers and issued the Executive Branch’s formal recognition of undivided Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there.

It’s now indisputably US law that undivided Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel. Any attempt to diminish this status by frivolous machinations like setting up a Consulate in Jerusalem to service a foreign non-state, to make some absurd point, is not only an irresponsible exercise in consular dilettantism, it’s also likely illegal, for all the reasons summarized above.

Israel is a loyal friend and vital strategic ally of the US. Diminishing it or sending mixed signals serves no useful purpose; it only tarnishes the prestige of the US. Let’s continue to strengthen our ties and build on the relationship. As the Bible[vii] promises, those who bless Israel will be blessed.

[i] Tibet Policy and Support Act (www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/4331/text)

[ii] See, for example, Israeli minister sees no compromise on U.S. Palestinian mission in Jerusalem, in Reuters, dated 10/12/2021

[iii] Blinken and Lapid discussed options for Iran not previously on table — official, by Jacob Magid, in the Times of Israel, dated 10/14/2021.

[iv] 109 Stat. 398, Public Law 104-45, dated November 8, 1995.

[v] Ibid, Section 3.

[vi] Congressional Record Volume 141, Number 165 (Tuesday, October 24, 1995), Senate, Page S15533.

[vii] Genesis 12:3.

About the Author
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.
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