The two converse amid rising Palestinian frustration with Biden administration; in Washington, deputy secretary meets visiting Israeli national security adviser
By JACOB MAGID and AARON BOXERMAN
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas slammed “American silence” and insisted that the current United States administration must “turn its talk into actions” during a phone call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday night.
Blinken’s call with Abbas came as frustration boils in Ramallah over the Biden administration’s refusal to introduce a significant Mideast diplomatic initiative and its failure to follow through on promises to roll back measures taken by former president Donald Trump that the PA views as having downgraded ties with Washington.
“The American administration must turn its talk into actions, rather than making do with this policy of condemnation, denunciation, and silence regarding these unilateral Israeli measures,” Abbas told Blinken, according to the official PA WAFA news agency.
The PA leader repeated Ramallah’s demands to see the US consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street reopened, as well as for the US to provide greater legitimacy to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“The PLO must be removed from the American terror list, the American consulate in East Jerusalem must be re-opened, as must the PLO office in Washington, given that [the US] is a full, responsible partner in the peace process,” Abbas told Blinken, according to WAFA.
Blinken and Abbas spoke as US President Joe Biden is expected to visit the region in the coming weeks. American and Israeli officials have already spoken to discuss the coming trip, and Blinken was quoted saying Washington planned to bring the Palestinians into the loop.
“The American administration will send a high-level delegation to prepare for Biden’s visit and discuss all the issues that President Abbas has raised throughout this phone call, and create an appropriate climate for the success of President Biden’s visit,” Blinken was quoted as saying in the Palestinian readout.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also met with visiting Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata on Tuesday, with efforts to restore calm on the Israeli-Palestinian front featuring prominently in both of Tuesday’s conversations.
During his call with Abbas, Blinken’s office said he “underscored the importance of concluding the investigations” into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The widely-respected correspondent was killed under disputed circumstances during an Israeli military raid in Jenin that sparked a gunfight with local armed Palestinians.
The PA finished its investigation last week, announcing that its investigators had determined the reporter was intentionally targeted by Israeli troops. Israel is still investigating the killing but says it is unlikely to reach a definitive conclusion without the lethal bullet, which the PA refuses to hand over.
The US has been pressing Ramallah to share the evidence with Israel.
Regardless, Blinken told Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Friday that the US expects Israel to swiftly wrap up its investigation and that the US wants full accountability for the death.
Palestinian frustration has intensified in recent months as the PA’s ties with Israel — which saw initial signs of improvement after the swearing-in of the new unity government last June slowly deteriorate.
Ties hit a nadir in recent weeks with clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police on the Temple Mount and the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a gunfight that broke out during an Israeli raid of Jenin. At Sunday’s Jerusalem Day Flag March, significant portions of the roughly 70,000 religious-nationalist participants were filmed chanting racist slogans and harassing Palestinian onlookers in the Old City, further inflaming tensions.
The US readouts from both the Blinken-Abbas call and the Sherman-Hulata meeting said the Biden officials emphasized “the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working together to maintain calm and deescalate tension.”
Blinken also stressed “the importance of the US-Palestinian relationship and the administration’s support for a negotiated two-state solution” — regularly used talking points, which have not assuaged Abbas, who blasted “American silence” amid “Israeli provocations” in a separate phone call with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi earlier Tuesday.
In an apparent effort to address that frustration, two US and Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel last week that Biden administration settled on a series of steps aimed at boosting its diplomatic ties to the Palestinians in lieu of reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem — a move it reluctantly shelved amid Israeli opposition.
According to two US and Palestinian officials who spoke to The Times of Israel, US President Joe Biden will elevate Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to the role of special envoy to the Palestinians. Amr will remain in Washington but will make regular trips to the region and work closely with the Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU), which currently is a branch within the US Embassy to Israel and is housed in the old Jerusalem consulate building.
In another move aimed at again setting apart the diplomats serving the Palestinians from those serving the Israelis, the PAU will officially begin reporting directly to Amr in Washington, rather than to the US ambassador in Israel, the US and Palestinian officials said.
Asked about the report during a Tuesday press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price did not issue a denial but insisted that the US remains committed to reopening the consulate — an assertion Biden officials have made for over a year. Price did not offer a timeline for when the move will be seen through.
In her meeting with Hulata, Sherman “reinforced the need to advance towards a reality where Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity,” the State Department said. Dozens of US readouts and statements from Biden officials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have included this line, but it appeared somewhat noteworthy in this particular meeting as Hulata’s talks with the US have generally focused on Iran — an issue that wasn’t included in the US readout.
The decision to “reinforce” the Palestinian issue appeared to indicate the Biden administration’s expectation that Israel do more to strengthen the PA and improve Palestinian lives amid the absence of peace talks.
Hulata is in Washington for the latest meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group, which largely focuses on bilateral coordination against the Iranian nuclear threat. He is also expected to discuss Biden’s trip to Israel and the West Bank, which is slated to take place in late June. Hulata will also reportedly receive an update on US efforts to broker an agreement that will see Egypt transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
That deal requires Israeli approval because of the multinational observer force that has been deployed on the islands since the Jewish state’s peace deal with Egypt. As a result, the US and Israel are reportedly pushing Riyadh to take a series of small steps toward full normalization with Jerusalem.
Times Of Israel