The Corner

The U.S. Embassy to Palestine

I’ve been the object of criticism recently, some of it deserved. But perhaps not all.

A few days ago, a friend sent me the link to the website of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. I was astonished: There was no mention of Israel or Israelis, no hint that Jerusalem is an Israeli city — Israel’s capital, actually — no suggestion that it is home not only to Muslims and Arabs, but also to Jews, Christians, and others. Everything on the site pertained exclusively to Palestinians. An Arabic version of the site was offered, but not one in Hebrew.

In other words, this is a de facto U.S. Embassy to Palestine — tucked inside Israel’s borders. I wrote an item for the Corner, asking: “What are we — and what are Israelis — to make of this?” I’m still wondering.

So what’s to criticize? Jeffrey Goldberg and James Taranto — both of whom I know, read regularly, and admire — were among those who chided me for having wrongly inferred that the consulate had had a more even-handed approach prior to the Obama administration. It turns out it has had substantially the same character and focus under previous administrations.

Having inferred that, I also implied it — not explicitly, but by linking to a column I had just written arguing that some of the new administration’s policies were making America seem more dangerous as a friend than as an enemy. (The column discussed White House support for the wrong side in Honduras, worries about U.S. reliability in Eastern Europe, as well the pressure being placed on Israel to make unilateral concessions.)

So mea culpa on that. But Goldberg goes on to say: “There is not much of a controversy here.” Taranto also suggests there’s no problem once one realizes this is not “something new to the Obama administration.”

I disagree. That this arrangement has enjoyed bipartisan support does not change the fact that it is odd, and deserving of scrutiny and debate. Consciously or not, it sends a message that the U.S. is not unsympathetic to those who wish Israel would disappear and/or to those who insist Jerusalem should become the capital of a future Palestinian state, one that would not permit Jews to be citizens or even residents — as is the case in many Arab and Muslim countries today.

Why not have a U.S. presence — a consulate or a less official “American Center” — in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority has its offices? Is the reason that the PA can’t provide security and won’t allow the U.S. to provide its own?

Also curious: Claudia Rosett has since asked a few questions and was told by a press officer at the Consulate that it is “100 percent independent” of the embassy in Tel Aviv, reporting not to the U.S. Ambassador in Israel but directly to the Secretary of State in Washington. Is there anywhere else in the world where we have such an arrangement? If not, is this unique status justified in this case? I’m not sure. I’d like to hear what Jeffrey and James think.

And what exactly is the argument against having a Consulate General in Jerusalem that recognizes Jerusalem as a diverse city — but, yes, an Israeli city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims co-exist imperfectly, to be sure, but better than they do anywhere else in the Middle East? Would that be so offensive to moderate Palestinians? Would it foreclose the possibility that someday, if some peace process were to succeed, part of Jerusalem might become the capital of an independent Palestinian state? I think the answers are no and no.

That the Israelis do not make a public fuss over this is no reason for us to close off discussion. A nation that is demonized day in and day out around the world has to choose carefully which insults and slights to protest and which to silently endure.

But to say there is nothing controversial here, nothing to look at, everybody go home? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Clifford D. May — Clifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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