US will request $75 million in development and economic aid for Palestinians
Biden to open US Consulate in Jerusalem, restore ties with the PA
The recent violence in Gaza between Israel and resistance forces spurred the US administration to pursue political and diplomatic measures in the region, as well as to re-establish contact with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
US President Joe Biden called Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on May 15, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ramallah on May 25.
The US administration made a number of judgments in conjunction with these actions. The reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem was announced by Blinken during his meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
According to Palestinian sources, Blinken confirmed that the US Consulate General in Jerusalem will reopen. He stated that the administration will request $75 million in development and economic aid for Palestinians from the US Congress, as well as $5.5 million in relief and $32 million in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine.
Blinken emphasized the United States' commitment to repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. He did not, however, provide a timeline for the consulate's reopening.
In 1844, the United States opened a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem. In 1928, it was designated as a Consulate General. The US Consulate General was amalgamated into the US Embassy on March 4, 2019, and relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The US Embassy's Palestinian Affairs Unit was repurposed from the former US Consulate General in Jerusalem.
The US Consulate had been in charge of US diplomatic ties with the PA for more than two decades before the merger. The reopening of the consulate is thus a step toward repairing US-Palestinian relations, which were strained during the Trump administration.
The US decision was warmly hailed by Palestinian officials. Hussein Al-Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, told Palestine TV on May 26 that the decision shows the failure of the US peace proposal. He called it "one of the most critical decisions made by the new US administration" and a "clear statement" that East Jerusalem is still part of the 1967 occupied territory.
Meanwhile, Israel has reacted angrily to the US move. Israel's ambassador to Washington, Gilad Erdan, said the Israel Broadcasting Corporation on May 26 that the Biden administration's intention to support Abbas does not concern Israel. He did say, though, that “we have vehemently opposed the reopening of the consulate in the municipal area of Jerusalem.”
The Palestinian Authority (PA) expects that the decision to create a consulate in Jerusalem will pave the door for other choices that would improve bilateral relations. According to Ahmad al-Deek, a political consultant in the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ruling affirms that East Jerusalem is part of the occupied Palestinian territory and is Palestine's capital, and that it would remain subject to final settlement.
“This decision is a step in the right direction. The Biden administration must fulfill the promises it made during the election campaign, including opening the PLO office in Washington,” he said. The PLO office was closed in October 2018.
On whether Blinken hinted at the steps that his country will take in the near future, Deek noted, “The efforts of the US administration are currently focused on consolidating the cease-fire in Gaza, opposing the eviction of families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, mobilizing the necessary funds and setting up a clear mechanism of action for the immediate start of reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.”
He added, “The US administration believes all the steps it is currently taking should lead to the revival of the peace process and negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides."
Regarding the US administration’s failure to cancel Trump’s decisions regarding Palestine, Deek said, “It is true that the Biden administration did not cancel Trump’s decisions, but we are happy with the departure of the Trump administration, whose project was to annihilate the Palestinian cause. The two administrations are different. We have to deal appropriately with the positive stances of the Biden administration, especially as it supports the two-state solution and rejects settlements. We are interested in the positive development of the US position. We appreciate the current administration’s help to pass from the crisis management stage to the resolution of the conflict.”
Yet the US announcement was rejected by Palestinian factions and parties. Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa Barghouti, told Al-Monitor, “The US administration’s announcement of reopening the embassy in Jerusalem is insufficient. The United States cannot play a mediating role in the peace process without ending its absolute bias toward Israel. The Biden administration should reverse the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel and transfer its embassy to Jerusalem. It should reopen the PLO headquarters in Washington and stop its efforts to split the united Palestinian ranks.”
Barghouti continued, “These moves are necessary if the United States wants us to see it differently. These moves, however, will not allow it to play a mediating role in light of its bias toward Israel. The last thing we will accept is resuming the sterile negotiations.”
Bassam Salihi, secretary-general of the Palestinian People's Party, downplayed the importance of any US administration move or decisions. He told Al-Monitor that in order to be serious, any US decision must include setting up a binding international mechanism to end the occupation according to a specific timetable.
The US administration’s decision to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem and resume financial aid are positive signs for the PA, allowing it to restore its ties with the US administration. Yet one of the most prominent challenges that will face this relationship is the US administration’s ability to take practical steps toward the Israeli settlement and the displacement of families in neighborhoods of Jerusalem.