The White House has reopened a line of communication with the Palestinian Authority ahead of a July presidential visit to Israel and the Middle East, likely moving the Biden administration a step closer to reestablishing a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
The U.S. Palestinian Affairs Unit was renamed the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs, and will allow Palestinian leaders to deal directly with the State Department rather than going through the American ambassador in Israel. It represents a sharp diplomatic departure from the Trump administration, which sought peace in the region but kept the Palestinian leadership at arm’s length.
“We felt that it was important to reintroduce separate reporting lines to Washington on Israeli and Palestinian issues, by our respective teams on the ground that focus on these issues,” the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs said in a statement.
The decision falls short of Palestinian demands that the U.S. reopen its Jerusalem consulate, which acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority before former President Donald Trump closed it. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pledged to reopen the consulate, but has not yet amid Israeli opposition. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has insisted that there is no room in Jerusalem for another American mission.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro described the move as “an interim step by the Biden administration toward reestablishing a consulate in Jerusalem.”
The Trump administration’s regional strategy was to isolate the Palestinian Authority by bringing staunch American ally Israel closer to Arab nations by emphasizing cooperation against the shared threat of a resurgent Iran. These efforts, largely spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, culminated in 2020, beginning with the Abraham Accords where Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, with Sudan and Morocco signing on later that year. Israel-Saudi ties remain informal but are reportedly moving closer toward formal normalization. The last Arab state to normalize relations with Israel before that point was Jordan, in 1994.
A Palestinian state was long considered a pre-condition of peace between Israel and Arab states, and the broad Trump strategy seemed to be reversing that process by tying Israel to traditional Palestinian allies to pressure the Palestinians into peace negotiations.
The Biden Administration has generally attempted to revert to a pre-Trumpian approach, attempting to renegotiate the controversial 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, which Trump pulled out of in 2018, and pursuing closer relations with the Palestinians.
The president’s trip to the Middle East was initially planned for June, but was recently pushed back to July due to “scheduling constraints.”