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US frustration with both sides growing, official tells ToI

Visiting US envoy raises human rights with Israelis, terror payments with PA

US State Department says Hady Amr used meetings in 4-day trip to advance ‘tangible improvements for Palestinians while preserving prospects for 2-state solution’

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)

The Biden administration’s envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raised human rights concerns during his meetings with Israeli officials, and US objections to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to security prisoners during his sit-downs in Ramallah this week.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was in the region from Monday to Thursday, meeting with government officials and civil society leaders with the stated goal of “equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians,” the US State Department said in a Thursday statement.

“Amr found his meetings with Palestinian civil society focused on the importance of human rights, as well as the need to provide hope, opportunity, and a political horizon, especially for young people. They also discussed the challenges activists and journalists are facing with freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration,” the State Department added.

The decision to highlight the desire among Palestinian civilians for greater freedom of expression appeared to be a shot at the PA, which cracked down brutally on protesters earlier this year and has been accused of ordering the killing of prominent government critic Nizar Banat, who died while in police custody this past June.

The US condemned Banat’s death and called for an independent probe into the incident. While the Biden administration views the PA as an important partner in the region, one it seeks to strengthen at the expense of the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, Washington has grown frustrated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s authoritarian tactics, according to an official familiar with the matter.

But the frustration among those in the Biden administration dealing with the region is not limited to the PA. The US is also deeply concerned about Israeli plans to approve thousands of settlement units in the West Bank, the official added.

Axios reported that the Biden administration is urging Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government to exercise restraint when it comes to settlement building.

Bennett for his part has told the White House that he plans to allow construction consistent with the “natural growth” of the settlements, according to an Israeli diplomatic official.

The US also issued a strong condemnation of a brutal settler assault on a Palestinian village in the southern West Bank earlier this month in which 12 were injured, including a three-year-old boy.

In meetings with Israeli and Palestinian government officials, including Abbas and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, Amr discussed “issues ranging from security, human rights and the rule of law, economic development, payments to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism, energy, water, and humanitarian relief in Gaza.”

Biden has called for the PA to reform its prisoner payment policy, which includes stipends to the families of security prisoners who carried out attacks against Israelis along with relatives of slain Palestinian attackers. The practice of paying allowances to those convicted of carrying out terror attacks and to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks — often referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-to-slay policy — has been pilloried by critics as incentivizing terror.

Ramallah has established a committee to deal with the issue, but no progress has been reported since it began meeting at the beginning of the year.

“Amr’s visit emphasized our commitment to democracy, economic prosperity, and regional security.  It highlighted the depth and breadth of the bonds between the American and Israeli people, including our ever-expanding economic relationship,” the State Department said.

“He also continued progress on our reestablishment of ties with the Palestinians.  His visit further sought ways to make tangible improvements for the Palestinian people with a view to preserving the vision of a negotiated two-state solution,” the statement concluded.

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