US Consulate in Jerusalem
US Consulate in JerusalemYonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The US and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the US Consulate for Palestinian Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, Israeli officials told Barak Ravid of Axios on Wednesday.

The consulate handled relations with the Palestinian Arabs before being shut down by former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has promised to reopen it, but he needs approval from the Israeli government. Meanwhile, senior officials in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Biden told Bennett during their White House meeting in August that he will not abandon his plan to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, setting up a major point of contention between the administrations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed the consulate issue during their meeting in Washington last Wednesday, according to Ravid’s report.

Lapid pushed back on the US position, saying, “I don’t know how to hold this coalition together if you reopen the consulate," said Israeli officials cited in the report.

Blinken said he understood the sensitive political situation and wants to start a dialogue to work toward a solution, the officials said.

The Secretary of State proposed the formation of a small team, including Lapid and himself, along with one or two aides from each side to discuss the issue with maximum discretion.

Lapid reportedly agreed but said he wants to hold off on such a dialogue until after the Israeli government passes a budget in the first week of November.

The Biden administration had previously decided to hold off on reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem until after the budget is approved in Israel.

Asked after Lapid's visit about the possibility of the US instead opening a consulate in Judea and Samaria, a senior Israeli official responded favorably but said he couldn't say whether that was under consideration.

A spokesperson for Lapid said no team was formed yet, and reiterated that Lapid had made his opposition to the reopening of the consulate clear in all of his meetings in Washington.

A State Department spokesperson said, “We have nothing new for you on this issue at this time.”