White House walks back Sullivan’s claim US seeking consulate in East Jerusalem

There has been no change in American policy regarding offices for Palestinians closed since 2019, spokesman clarifies after Biden adviser apparently misspeaks

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, January 24, 2022. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, January 24, 2022. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

White House spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday walked back remarks made by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said earlier that Washington wants the Palestinians to have a consulate in East Jerusalem.

Kirby clarified that there has been no change in US policy regarding the consulate, Reuters reported.

The US is interested in reopening its consulate for Palestinians in West Jerusalem, which was closed by former US president Donald Trump in 2019.

Sullivan made the remarks to reporters on Air Force One as it flew US President Joe Biden to Israel for the start of his Middle East visit.

Asked about the potential of reopening the Jerusalem consulate that served Palestinians, Sullivan said that it is the US’s position “that we would like a consulate in East Jerusalem, obviously that requires engagement with the Israeli government, that requires engagement with the Palestinian leadership as well, and we will continue that engagement on this trip.”

Sullivan also told reporters aboard Air Force One that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke recently on the phone with the family of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

View of the US consulate in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, shortly before the building became the American embassy in Israel, February 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Blinken invited the family to come to Washington to meet directly with administration officials in order to further discuss her killing, Sullivan said, after relatives of Abu Akleh last week addressed a letter to Biden, slamming his administration’s response to her death and asking to meet Biden during his visit to Israel and the West Bank.

The family expressed “grief, outrage and [a] sense of betrayal,” accusing the US of trying to erase Israel’s responsibility for her death.

The US put out a statement earlier this month that said Israel did not intentionally kill Abu Akleh, even though it was likely responsible. Sullivan said the administration is still seeking accountability in the Al Jazeera reporter’s death.

A senior Israeli official acknowledged last week that Abu Akleh’s death will likely “cast a shadow” on Biden’s visit.

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 19, 2022. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Sullivan also told reporters aboard the flight that the Biden administration was “heartened” by the recent phone call between Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The call was the first in years between Israeli and Palestinian leaders after Lapid’s predecessor, Naftali Bennett, refused to engage with the PA president and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the same for much of his tenure.

Sullivan expressed hope that the recent call will lead to more cooperation between the sides on a path toward a two-state solution. He told reporters that while Biden is hopeful for Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, “he won’t be making formal proposals for the launch of some sort of peace initiative.”

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