Diplomatic Source: Lapid Misled Americans on Palestinian Consulate in Yerushalayim

View of the U.S. Consulate General on Agron Street in central Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tension between Israel and the U.S. over Washington’s plans to reopen a key diplomatic office to the Palestinians in Yerushalayim stem from a lack of coordination between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, according to a diplomatic source with knowledge of the issue, Israel Hayom reported.

Lapid offered Secretary of State Antony Blinken his preliminary commitment that the U.S. would be able to reopen the de-facto embassy to the Palestinians in one of his first phone calls with the senior White House official as foreign minister, the official told Israel Hayom.

In his conversations with Blinken, Lapid noted the government’s sensitive political make-up and advised Washington to delay the move until after the Knesset passes the budget, a move Lapid explained would ensure government stability. Blinken accepted Lapid’s position, nevertheless working behind the scenes to advance the move inside the State Department.

Nevertheless, around one month after the government was sworn in, Bennett’s advisors began to hold talks with President Joe Biden’s administration on the subject. National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and Bennett adviser Shimrit Meir visited the White House in Washington in early August in preparation for the premier’s visit. In those talks, the two Israeli officials emphasized Bennett’s opposition to the opening of the Palestinian consulate was a matter of principle and unrelated to political timing. Bennett would continue to oppose the move after the budget had passed, they explained.

Administration officials were reportedly surprised by Hulata’s and Meir’s stance as well as disappointed by the inconsistent Israeli position on the issue. “One of the reasons Blinken announced his intention of opening the consulate last week precisely when Lapid was by his side and with the knowledge Israel opposed [the move] was that Lapid had misled him,” the source told Israel Hayom.

Lapid has denied the reports, saying he has opposed the opening of a Palestinian consulate from Day 1. He also denied the U.S. planned to unilaterally open the consulate if Israeli officials were unable to reach a decision on the move.

“The prime minister’s consistent stance since the beginning of his term has been and remains that there is no room for a consulate in Yerushalayim. This position was also relayed during the prime minister’s visit to Washington as well as through the strategic adviser in talks with the U.S. administration officials. The foreign minister has consistently expressed [support for] the same position in his talks with the Americans, including during his successful Washington trip,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Yerushalayim and the U.S. State Department declined to comment.