US Restores Direct Communication With Palestinians in Jerusalem, Signaling an Upgrade in Ties
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JERUSALEM, Israel – The Biden administration on Thursday reopened a direct line of communication to the Palestinian Authority that was severed under former President Donald Trump.
The largely symbolic move falls short of the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which acted as a de facto US Embassy to the Palestinians for decades. When Trump moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he later closed the consulate and the diplomats who worked there moved to “The Palestinian Affairs Unit,” a subdivision of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
On Thursday, the department changed its name to the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs” and said in a statement that the move was intended to “strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement.”
The decision means the Palestinians can now communicate directly with the State Department instead of having to go through the US ambassador to Israel. It also means that Washington is differentiating between its relationship with the Palestinians and its relationship with Israel.
“We felt that it was important to reintroduce separate reporting lines to Washington on Israeli and Palestinian issues, by our respective teams on the ground that focus on these issues,” according to the statement, which noted that Washington was a restoring a system that had been in place for decades before the Trump administration.
The decision signals that Washington is seeking to bolster Palestinian ties ahead of President Joe Biden’s expected visit to the region next month. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders commented on the move.
The administration has pledged to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem – a move that Israel vehemently opposes but the Palestinians are pushing for. Israel argues that the operation of a Palestinian mission in Jerusalem challenges Israel’s sovereignty over the city.
“After a wave of Palestinian terror in Jerusalem, the last thing the Biden Administration ought to be doing is rewarding Palestinian leadership for this incitement and violence, while entertaining their fanciful intent to divide Jerusalem and deny Jewish connection to the city,” Human rights attorney Arsen Ostrovsky told CBN News.
Meanwhile, supporters argue that reopening the consulate is simply restoring decades-old US foreign policy and could help mend ties with the Palestinians that ruptured under Trump.
The US remains "committed to re-opening our consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it is an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people,” a State Department official said in a statement. "We are continuing to discuss this with our Israeli and Palestinian partners."
The Palestinian Authority has said it considers the reopening of the consulate as part of the international community’s commitment to eventually establishing an independent Palestinian state.
So far, the Biden administration has failed to reopen the consulate, apparently over concerns about upsetting Israel.
However, Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, told AP that Thursday’s move is an “interim step by the Biden administration toward reestablishing a consulate in Jerusalem.”
Thursday’s move could represent a new challenge for Israel’s fragile governing coalition, which is a diverse alliance of parties from the political left, right, center, and for the first time, an Islamist Arab party. The members of the coalition are ideologically divided on controversial issues related to Israel’s ties with the Palestinians, such as Palestinian statehood.
Washington has made other moves to improve ties with the Palestinians, including restoring funding to the UN agency that serves Palestinian refugees, and restoring American aid to the Palestinian Authority.
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