The State Department announced Thursday that the United States would rename the “Palestinian Affairs Unit” in the U.S. Embassy to Israel as the “U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs.”
The move was reflected in the name of the Palestinian Affairs Unit’s Twitter handle changing to “U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs.” The Biden administration said that the changes were to “strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement,” The Associated Press reported.
A day before the announcement, the State Department had revised internal procedures Wednesday, no longer requiring diplomats with the “Palestinian Affairs Unit” to report to the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, sources familiar with the situation told Axios.
Instead, the sources said “Palestinian Affairs Unit” diplomats would directly report to the State Department’s Near East Affairs Bureau, Axios reported.
The move marks a differentiation between the U.S. relationship with Palestinians and the U.S.-Israeli relationship, according to Axios.
The Thursday announcement signals the Biden administration’s partial reversal of the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to shut the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.
Until its closure, the consulate effectively functioned as a de facto U.S. Embassy to the Palestinians.
Instead of the consulate, the Trump administration created the “Palestinian Affairs Unit” within the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem to deal with U.S.-Palestinian affairs.
The Biden administration, since it took over from the Trump administration, has sought to restore U.S. ties with the Palestinians.
Part of the approach to rekindling ties included re-opening the consulate, a move which Israeli officials opposed, as it would undermine Israel’s claims that Jerusalem is its undivided capital.
In a recent statement to Axios, a Biden administration official said that the U.S. remains “committed to re-opening our consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it is an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people.”
“We are continuing to discuss this with our Israeli and Palestinian partners,” the official further stated, according to Axios. “Meanwhile, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem in our Office of Palestinian Affairs, focused on engagement with and outreach to the Palestinians.”
The Biden administration’s decision has received criticism that the move was detrimental to relations with Israel and bore the appearance of rewarding the Palestinian leadership after Palestinian militant groups carried out a string of terrorist attacks in the country in recent months, Fox News reported.
“We had a consul-general in West Jerusalem for decades dedicated to Palestinian affairs, which meant Palestinians had to cross into West Jerusalem for any consular affairs related to the United States,” Victoria Coates, former deputy national security advisor to President Trump, told Fox News.
“Since 2018, their affairs have been handled by a proper U.S. Embassy, which also happens to be in West Jerusalem. This unnecessary change with the Palestinians will only prolong the stalemate between them and Israel and will not bring us any closer to peace than the old ConGen [consulate-general] did [before Trump],” Coates said.
“The Biden administration is reverting to past failed practices,” Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told Fox News.
“Although the announced changes are essentially bureaucratic in nature, with amendments to names and reporting lines, it is the symbolism of the move which hits home for some. It signals an upgrade in relations with the possibility of more fruitless promises to come,” Danon said.
Israeli human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky described the new Biden administration policy as a “back door” to forcing a consulate to the Palestinians upon Israel.
“Having been unable to force upon Israel their plan to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, this is a transparent attempt by the Biden administration to go round the back door, with a de facto consulate in clear attempt to water down the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Ostrovsky told Fox News.
“The move, a direct challenge to Israel’s sovereignty, which potentially might also breach the Jerusalem Embassy Act, will only reward Palestinian intransigence and violence, as we have seen in the past months,” the human rights attorney said.
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