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Overriding Trump: Biden opens US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem, sends top envoy to Ramallah

Biden partially reverses Trump’s policies to reassure the Palestinians his administration is committed to their cause 

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his office in Ramallah, June 11, 2022. (Photo: US State Department/Twitter)

In a partial reversal of the Trump administration's closure of the American Embassy that served the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, U.S. President Joe Biden decided to open the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA) in the city.

The dramatic and symbolic move by the Biden administration is aimed at reassuring Palestinians that the U.S. is committed to their cause and to strengthening ties.

The new diplomatic mission, referred to as OPA, will not be a formal embassy by itself, but rather remain under the auspices of the embassy that Trump relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

However, according to the State Department, the upgraded office will now report “on substantive matters” directly to the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in Washington, instead of the U.S. ambassador to Israel - as has been the case for the past three years.

“The new OPA reporting structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic and public diplomacy engagement," added a statement from the State Department. 

The move is part of a series of steps the Biden administration has taken recently to amend the fractured U.S. ties with the Palestinians. Ahead of Biden’s expected trip to the region, the U.S. announced that Hady Amr will serve as a special envoy to the Palestinians. Amr’s former title was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs.

Israeli media outlets reported that these measures come as the administration is not inclined to re-open the Palestinian Consulate in East Jerusalem, despite earlier promises by President Biden. But in a phone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is still committed to the matter. 

The Israeli government vehemently opposes reopening of the Jerusalem consulate. A decision to follow through on Biden’s pledge could further undermine the already unstable Israeli coalition of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. 

Under Trump, the U.S. cut hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Trump has also shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Washington D.C., which served as a de-facto embassy for Palestinians. 

Such steps were part of the former president’s strategy to remove incentives while Palestinians refused to engage in talks with Israel, as well as ensure that funds were not spent against U.S. interests. 

For these reasons, the reversal of the Trump administration’s approach by Biden is being viewed by some as rewarding the Palestinian leadership following a recent deadly wave of terrorism. 

Israel’s former Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told Fox News, that "the Biden administration is reverting to past failed practices."

"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.

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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