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Palestinian president urges US to reopen the East Jerusalem consulate ahead of possible Biden visit

Reports say White House has still not yet confirmed an itinerary due to lack of clarity on political situation in Israel

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (Photo: Flash90)

Palestinian leaders are urging the United States to re-open the East Jerusalem Consulate and follow through on the administration’s promise, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East later this month. 

In March 2019, former U.S. President Donald Trump closed the consulate which functioned as the de-facto embassy to Palestinians and cut millions of dollars in aid, citing the Palestinian reluctance to enter peace negotiations with Israel. 

In a phone call on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Palestinian people can no longer sustain a lack of solution to their cause. He called on the White House to remove the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations and reverse the Trump administration's decision to shutter its office in Washington, D.C.

The Times of Israel reported on Sunday that the Biden administration has settled on a series of steps aimed at improving ties with the Palestinians instead of reopening the consulate. 

One such compensating step, according to the report, is the potential nomination of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, Hady Amr, as a special envoy to the Palestinians.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price did not confirm the report at a press briefing on Tuesday. Instead, he stressed that the U.S. is still committed to reopening the consulate. 

Abbas and Blinken also discussed the charged and violent atmosphere in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian leader accused Israel for “attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque” and threatened to take unilateral action and halt security coordination with Israel.

Blinken told Abbas it is important that Israelis and Palestinians work to maintain calm and de-escalate tensions, according to a statement from Price.

“The Secretary emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Palestinian relationship, and the Administration’s support for a negotiated two-state solution. Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of concluding the investigations into the death of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh,” read the statement.

Last week, the PA announced the results of its investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist, stating that it shows Israeli forces deliberately shot and killed her.

A Biden administration official told the Times of Israel the U.S. would not launch its own probe into the matter, but will provide assistance to both the Israeli government and the PA with their own separate investigations. 

Palestinians have so far rejected Israel’s request to hand over evidence of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh for examination. 

Biden is expected to visit Israel in less than three weeks, but there has not been an official announcement from the White House yet regarding his itinerary. Nor has there been a final confirmation of his visit. 

According to Ynet, the reason is that U.S. administration is waiting for more clarity on the political situation in Israel. There is a chance that the current government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, will not survive and that the country will head to snap elections. 

Alternatively, the Israeli opposition is making efforts to replace the current government with one led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – without having to go to elections. 

Under each of these scenarios, Biden may prefer to postpone his trip to avoid being seen as intervening in the Israel’s internal affairs.

Next week, Bennett's government faces another test – the most crucial vote for a parliamentary bill since the establishment of the current coalition. If it fails to pass, chances are high that the government’s days will be numbered. 

The critical bill regulates the extension of Israeli law to the West Bank. The bill must be renewed by the Knesset every five years and is set to expire by the end of June. 

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar pointed to the significance of the vote, saying, “It will show if the coalition wants to continue to exist or not."

Bennett’s coalition rules, but with an even 60-60 in a 120-seat parliament. The opposition vowed not to support any upcoming coalition legislation, even if its members ideologically support it. 

The Islamist party Ra’am and left-wing parties, Meretz and Labor, must vote for a bill which tightens Israel’s control over the West Bank – something those parties are fundamentally opposed to – if the current government wishes to survive.

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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