Middle East

US signals a boost in ties with Palestinians ahead of Biden visit

The United States upgraded its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, reversing a Trump administration move ahead of a planned visit by President Joe Biden, Reuters reports.

The “Palestinian Affairs Unit” (PAU) was renamed the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs” (OPA) and will report directly to Washington “on substantive matters”. Prior to becoming the PAU, it had been the US Consulate in Jerusalem and a focus of Palestinian statehood goals in the city.

Former President Donald Trump formally closed the Consulate and re-designated it as the PAU within the US Embassy that was moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018.

That move outraged Palestinians, who saw it as undermining their aspiration to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a future State. Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in 1967, calls Jerusalem its indivisible capital.

“The OPA operates under the auspices of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and reports on substantive matters directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department,” a spokesperson for the mission said.

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

On Thursday, Palestinian officials hosted US State Department envoy, Hady Amr, in Ramallah, their seat of government in the occupied West Bank. They had no immediate comment at the end of the meeting.

A senior Palestinian official told Reuters that, in a call with the US Secretary of State several days ago, President Mahmoud Abbas rejected any alternatives to the reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem.

Under the Trump-era re-designation, the former Consulate’s staff and functions remained largely identical, but were subordinate to the Embassy rather than on a strict US-Palestinian bilateral track.

The former consulate building, which now houses the OPA, is in west Jerusalem.

The Biden administration has pledged to re-open the Consulate, but Israel has said it would not consent to this and proposed that a Consulate be opened in Ramallah instead.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined comment on Thursday’s re-designation of the Jerusalem mission.

READ: Israel rejects US plan to reopen consulate in occupied Jerusalem

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