Ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s possible visit to the region next month, the United States appointed a special envoy to the Palestinian Authority and will be making other overtures rather than reopening the East Jerusalem consulate.
The Times of Israel reported on Sunday that the current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr will be appointed special envoy to the PA.
According to two U.S. and Palestinian officials who spoke to the Israeli news site, Amr will make regular trips to the Middle East and work closely with the Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU), a part of the U.S. Embassy to Israel, which is housed in the former Jerusalem Consulate building.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump closed the old U.S. Jerusalem Consulate while Biden – who pledged to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem – has had to put that idea on permanent hold amid strong Israeli opposition to its reopening. Instead, Israel has suggested that the U.S. reopen the consulate in Ramallah or in Abu Dis, however this has been rejected by the PA, which sees symbolic value in the consulate being reopened in East Jerusalem. The PA views East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The upcoming appointment of Amr to special envoy is meant to be a way to strengthen diplomatic ties with the PA without reopening the U.S. Consulate.
“Amr has longstanding ties with senior PA officials and is well-liked in Ramallah, but it is unclear whether his elevation along with the changes to the PAU will satisfy the Palestinians, who have grown increasingly frustrated at the Biden administration’s failure to follow through on its promise to reopen the consulate,” The Times of Israel reported.
In a separate move, which could be seen as an attempt to placate the PA and strengthen ties with it in the process, the U.S. has warned Israel against going through with plans to evict roughly 1,300 Arabs from the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank – an area intended to be used as a military training zone.
The area is known as Masafer Yatta and is home to at least eight Bedouin settlements. The Israeli military declared the area a training zone in the early 1980s and Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled three weeks ago that Israel could move forward with the evictions because the Arab petitioners could not successfully prove they had been living in the settlements as permanent residents before Israel declared the area a military training zone.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield raised the issue of the evictions in her remarks during the monthly Security Council session on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“It is important to refrain from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions and jeopardize a negotiated two-state solution. This includes the situation in Masafer Yatta and other evictions, which we continue to monitor closely and voice our concerns about,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council.
The UN’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland also brought up Masafer Yatta at the Security Council session.
“I am deeply concerned by the potential implications of the High Court’s ruling and the humanitarian toll on the communities in question if evictions orders are carried out,” Wennesland said.
Additionally, 83 Democrats from both Houses of Congress expressed their discontent with Israel’s eviction plans in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Such evictions undermine our shared democratic values, imperil Israel’s security, and disregard Palestinian human and civil rights,” the lawmakers wrote. “We respectfully request that you immediately engage with the Israeli government to prevent these evictions and further military training exercises in the area. With President Biden visiting Israel in late June, it is critical that the Administration respond quickly to ensure that this momentous trip can deliver concrete steps toward peace.”