Yesterday, the State Department announced that the American Consulate General in Jerusalem, previously Washington’s de facto embassy to the Palestinians, would be subsumed into the U.S. Embassy to Israel. This discards the notion of diplomatic separation between Israel and the Palestinians, lending legitimacy to the idea that one state is a fait accompli. For supporters of the two-state solution, this is not a “turning point” or a “death blow;” it is more of the same from a U.S. administration that set out from the start to upend bipartisan policies and consensus positions on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
This is a dark hour for those of us who believe in a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, we have witnessed such dark hours before: the uncertain days that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Second Intifada, the rise of Hamas in Gaza, and the collapse of the peace process during the Obama years, to name a few. Nevertheless, in each of those instances, the United States was a constant. Center-left and right-wing coalitions rotated through the Knesset. The Palestinians vacillated between cooperation and intransigence. But at the end of the day, no matter which party was in the White House, American policymakers respected a set of core tenets on Middle East peacemaking: the principle of land-for-peace, and later, the vision articulated by President George W. Bush to create “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.” Broadly speaking, the aim was always to achieve dignity and sovereignty for the Palestinians and to ensure Israel’s enduring security, democracy, and Jewish character.
Israel is a critically important U.S. ally and an active American diplomatic role is essential precisely because U.S.-Israel ties are so strong. Despite this close bond, U.S. diplomatic efforts have sought to account for Palestinian aspirations in order to most effectively mediate a resolution to the conflict. American diplomats steadfastly defended Israel against gross bias in international forums like the UN, but they have also upheld multilateral understandings about the parameters of a final-status agreement. Israel benefits from generous U.S. security assistance, yet Washington would never vocally advocate for settlements on disputed land.
The Consulate General in Jerusalem was emblematic of that erstwhile model of American peacemaking. It was a direct point-of-contact with the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer explains in the New York Daily News that the Consulate prevented groupthink in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv by inserting a Palestinian narrative into the work of foreign service officers who primarily interacted with Israelis. Above all, the Consulate General demonstrated to Palestinians that Americans were listening.
The Consulate’s closure does not doom this way of doing things because the administration’s ability to credibly and effectively engage with both sides was undermined long ago. We should be alarmed by this latest move, but it is hardly surprising. Merging the Consulate General into the Embassy to Israel constitutes a direct assault against the vision of a secure and sustainable two-state solution, but it was not the opening volley.
After all, this is the administration that declared Jerusalem “off the table.” Ambassador David Friedman dubiously asserted that Israel occupied only two percent of the West Bank, and broke diplomatic custom by attending public functions at settlements there, implicitly backing their expansion. Under President Trump’s watch, the United States terminated funding for all USAID projects in the Palestinian Territories, cruelly punishing the beneficiaries of public health programs, people-to-people exchanges, microfinance initiatives. The U.S. went from being UNRWA’s largest donor to giving nothing at all without considering a replacement for that flawed institution or the regional ramifications of a sudden cutoff. The P.L.O. Mission was shuttered, foreclosing any near-term possibility that the Palestinians will resume contacts with Washington. Ambassador Nikki Haley blocked Salam Fayyad, a respected statesman and moderate former Palestinian prime minister, from becoming UN envoy on Libya simply because he is Palestinian.
The list goes on.
A future American president can undo some of these changes, but there is also a danger in overcorrecting as the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction. A future White House could very well preserve the unified Consulate-Embassy model in Jerusalem, not to represent the U.S.’s interests to Israel, but as a liaison to a unitary state. That outcome would be disastrous for all those who believe in a Jewish, democratic Israel. We must keep a long view that accounts for these eventualities too.
Today, advocates for a viable two-state solution must mount a determined, effective defense against this dangerous direction. This determination underlies Israel Policy Forum’s work in the United States and that of our organizational partners. In Israel, the more than 280 retired generals of Commanders for Israel’s Security and an array of like-minded NGOs are carrying on the fight. To discard the two-state goal is to invite untoward consequences for Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and the long-term strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship. As Israel Policy Forum’s chair Susie Gelman wrote in Ha’aretz last month, now is the time to double down. The architects of the current territorial expansionist agenda in Washington and Jerusalem waited many years before they could enact their vision. Now, we too must be steadfast in our convictions. It is our turn to persevere.