US insists it's committed to reopening consulate after officials tell ToI otherwise

US insists it’s committed to reopening consulate after officials tell ToI otherwise

The US is still committed to reopening its consulate in Jerusalem, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday, after US and Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel otherwise.

During a press briefing, Price was asked to respond to a Times of Israel report on Sunday revealing that the Biden administration has settled on a number of steps aimed at boosting ties with the Palestinians in lieu of reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem.

Price did not deny the report, but insisted that the US is still “committed to [re]opening a consulate in Jerusalem” — a line Biden officials have reiterated dozens of times since Secretary of State Antony Blinken first made the announcement over a year ago. The Israeli government has pushed back against the move, arguing that it is an encroachment on its sovereignty, and Washington has subsequently held off on the step, not wanting to engage in a fight with its Israeli allies.

“We continue to believe [reopening the consulate] can be an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people. We’re continuing to discuss this with our Israeli and Palestinian partners and will continue to come up to consult with members of Congress as well,” Price said, refusing once again to offer a timeline for when Blinken’s pledge might be seen through.

“Meanwhile, at this very moment, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem in our Palestinian Affairs [Unit] focused on engagement with an outreach to the Palestinian people,” he added, acknowledging that “there are some… unique sensitivities to [reopening] this particular facility.”

According to two US and Palestinian officials who spoke to The Times of Israel last week, US President Joe Biden will elevate Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to the role of special envoy to the Palestinians. Amr will remain in Washington but will make regular trips to the region and work closely with the Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU), which currently is a branch within the US Embassy to Israel and is housed in the old Jerusalem consulate building.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, on May 14, 2021. (US Embassy Palestinian Affairs Unit/Twitter)

The unit’s diplomats used to serve independently from the embassy until former US president Donald Trump shuttered the de facto mission to the Palestinians in 2019.

While the Trump administration cited efficiency reasons for the decision — given that it had moved the US embassy to Jerusalem a year earlier — the step was seen by the Palestinian Authority as a downgrade of its ties with the US, and Ramallah has largely refused to engage with the PAU.

But in a move aimed at again setting apart the diplomats serving the Palestinians from those serving the Israelis, the PAU will officially begin reporting directly to Amr in Washington, rather than to the US ambassador in Israel, the US and Palestinian officials said.

A US diplomat told The Times of Israel last December that the PAU was already de facto reporting directly to Washington, but the move was never formalized or announced.

The Biden administration is hoping to finalize the series of steps before the president’s trip to Israel and the West Bank that is expected to take place in late June.

Andrew Miller is slated to replace Amr as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. Miller currently serves as a policy adviser at the US Mission to the UN but was previously director for Egypt and Israel Military Issues at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration.

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