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Reversing Trump, Biden restructures diplomatic mission to boost Palestinian ties

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hady Amr meets with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, in Ramallah on July 13, 2021. (WAFA)
US envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hady Amr meets with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, in Ramallah on July 13, 2021. (WAFA)

US President Joe Biden’s administration has implemented a bureaucratic yet symbolic move aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties with the Palestinians in lieu of reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The de facto mission to the Palestinians was shuttered by former US president Donald Trump in 2019 and the diplomats in the office were moved under the auspices of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, making them a subdivision of Washington’s ties with Israel called the Palestinian Affairs Unit.

Earlier today, the PAU’s name was officially changed to the Office of Palestinian Affairs.

A spokesman for the newly named office tells The Times of Israel that the OPA remains under the auspices of the embassy but now “reports on substantive matters directly” to the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in Washington, rather than to the US ambassador to Israel as had been the case for the past three years.

The PAU will continue to be led by George Noll, who has headed the PAU for the past several years.

“The name change was done to better align with State Department nomenclature,” the OPA spokesman says. “The new OPA reporting structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement.”

The move is the first in a series of steps aimed at boosting ties with the Palestinians as the Biden administration holds off on reopening the US consulate due to Israeli opposition.

The more significant step the US planned to announce before Biden’s upcoming trip to Israel was to elevate Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to the role of special envoy to the Palestinians, two US and Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel last month.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared the plan with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a phone call last week, but the latter did not take well to the idea, demanding that the Biden administration uphold its repeated pledges to reopen the consulate, the two officials said. Abbas asked Blinken to hold off on announcing Amr’s new position.

The US has not given up on the move and will discuss the issue further with the PA when an advance team for Biden’s trip visits Ramallah at the end of the week, an American official said. The delegation will be led by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf.

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