Biden administration opens direct channel to Ramallah

In first public contact in years, senior Palestinian, US officials share call

Palestinians have boycotted Washington since 2017, although some informal contacts have remained in place; senior PA official says two sides discussed bilateral relations

Then-US vice president Joe Biden meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 9, 2016. (FLASH90).
Then-US vice president Joe Biden meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 9, 2016. (FLASH90).

In what appeared to be the first official contact between Washington and Ramallah under the newly inaugurated administration of President Joe Biden, two senior Palestinian and American officials spoke on the phone to discuss the relationship between the two parties on Monday.

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commission chairman Hussein al-Sheikh said in a statement that said he had spoken to US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr.

“Bilateral relations were discussed, and the political situation and the latest current developments. It was a constructive conversation, and further communications were agreed upon,” al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter.

Al-Sheikh is one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s most trusted aides. The Fatah official is in charge of Ramallah’s coordination with Israel.

Hady Amr, now US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, speaks at the Brookings Institute, where he had been a fellow, on December 3, 2018. (Screen capture/YouTube)

In addition to al-Sheikh, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also spoke with Amr, according to Palestinian National Public Radio.

The State Department did not release an official statement on the matter.

However, an official in the department told The Times of Israel that Amr “is making a range of introductory calls with the government of Israel and Palestinian Authority counterparts as he assumes his new duties.”

“We do not discuss the details of private diplomatic discussions,” the US official added.

While the Palestinians officially severed ties with Washington in 2017, covert, informal contacts between the Palestinians and Washington have been ongoing since Biden’s victory, in an attempt to restore the bilateral relationship.

Ramallah officially broke ties with Washington in 2017, when former president Donald Trump announced his intention to move the United States’ embassy to Jerusalem. Relations only grew worse during the remainder of Trump’s term.

Trump shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington and substantially cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians harshly criticized a peace plan put forth by Washington which they deemed lopsidedly pro-Israel and recent normalization accords between Israel and some Arab states.

File: Then-coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, left, and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh sign an agreement to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, January 15, 2017. (Courtesy COGAT)

When Americans headed to the polls last November, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh publicly hoped for a Biden victory, saying that should Trump win: “God help us.”

Even after the Jerusalem recognition though, a select few PA officials, including Intelligence Services chief Majed Faraj, were believed to have been in periodic contact with Washington, which showed interest in maintaining Israeli-Palestinian security ties, even as US-PA contacts were virtually non-existent.

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