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Biden elevates State Department official to new role solely focused on Palestinians

Abbas agrees to work with Hady Amr after objecting to promotion in May due to frustration over it coming in lieu of reopening Jerusalem consulate; US insists that’s still the plan

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on May 17, 2021. (Wafa)
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on May 17, 2021. (Wafa)

US President Joe Biden has promoted a senior State Department official to a new role in charge of engaging with the Palestinians, a senior US official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Hady Amr, who for the past two years served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, has been named special representative for Palestinian affairs.

The Biden administration was hoping to announce the promotion last May, framing it as an elevation of US relations with the Palestinians, The Times of Israel revealed at the time. But when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas of the plan, the latter asked the Biden administration not to go forward with it, deeming the promotion as insufficient in light of Washington’s failure to follow through on its promise to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem — the de facto mission to the Palestinians that was shuttered by former president Donald Trump in 2019.

In recent weeks though, the Biden administration came back to Abbas with the proposal — Amr was in the region last week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials — and the PA leader agreed to work with him in his new role, an official familiar with the matter said, confirming a report on the Axios news site.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister-Designate Benjamin Netanyahu were updated on Amr’s new role ahead of time as well, the official said.

Last May, two officials familiar with the matter said Andrew Miller would replace Amr as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. Miller has served as a policy adviser at the US Mission to the UN and director for Egypt and Israel Military Issues at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration. It was not immediately clear whether he still would replace Amr.

The United States Consulate General building in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

In his new role, Amr will continue working out of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Washington while also coordinating closely with the US Embassy in Jerusalem’s Office of Palestinian Affairs, the senior State Department official said.

“This step serves US interests by bolstering our ability to deepen the US-Palestinian relationship and help to manage challenges in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, as well as the interests of Israelis, Palestinians, and our other partners in the region,” the official added. “The decision to create [this new] role was made to strengthen the US-Palestinian relationship.”

The official claimed that the administration is still committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. Successive Israeli governments have opposed this move, and some degree of buy-in from Jerusalem is required.

Over the past year and a half, the Biden administration held off on fulfilling the campaign pledge, not wanting to destabilize the more moderate government led by Lapid and former prime minister Naftali Bennett that had been in place. While that priority no longer exists, as Netanyahu prepares to return to office, Biden’s preference to avoid public spats with Israel is said to remain.

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