The Biden administration assigned Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to serve as special representative for Palestinian Affairs, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday.
The role is the first position at the State Department to deal solely with Palestinian affairs and, therefore, represents a significant upgrade in relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority.
In his new Washington-based position, Amr will continue to defer to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf. He will also work closely with U.S. diplomats in Israel.
Amr, 58, is a Lebanese American, and a veteran of several administrations, including the Clinton and the Obama administrations. He has worked on issues related to the Israeli-Arab conflict since 2014 and both Israel and the P.A. reportedly hold him in high esteem.
“The Washington-based Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs will engage closely with the Palestinians and their leadership and, together with Ambassador [Thomas] Nides and his team, continue to engage with Israel on Palestinian-related issues,” the State Department official said.
“This step serves U.S. interests by bolstering our ability to deepen the U.S.-Palestinian relationship and help to manage challenges in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, as well as the interests of Israelis, Palestinians and our other partners in the region,” the official said.
The Biden administration intended to launch the position in May but was stopped by P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas’ opposition to the move, who said the new position was not enough to compensate for the continued closure of the U.S. Consulate – the U.S. diplomatic mission to the P.A. before former U.S. President Donald Trump closed it when moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.
Nevertheless, the new position appears to be compensation for the U.S. consulate remaining closed. While the Biden administration pledged to reopen the consulate, the changes in Israeli government made it clear that reopening is not on the table.
“The government under my leadership has repeatedly clarified its position that there is no place for a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem,” then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in December. “Jerusalem is the capital of one state, the State of Israel – period.”
The U.S. State Department official made it clear that reopening the consulate remains a long-term priority for the Biden administration.
“As the President reiterated in Israel and the West Bank, we remain committed to re-opening our Consulate General in Jerusalem and to the vision of a two-state solution,” the official said.
According to Martin Indyk, U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under former U.S. President Barack Obama, Amr’s new role is meant to reassure the Palestinians that they remain an important item on the Biden administration’s list of priorities, despite the absence of PLO representation in Washington. Trump closed the PLO office in 2018.
“Because Hady is known and trusted by the Secretary of State and other senior officials, he will have access and influence at the highest level,” Indyk said.
According to a Times of Israel report in May, it is considered likely that Andrew Miller will become the new deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. Miller is currently a policy advisor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He served as director over Egypt and Israel military issues at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration.