US messages to Ramallah: ‘Economic Dialogue – Yes, Diplomatic Contacts – No’

December 16, 2021 by Baruch Yedid - TPS
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The Biden administration has postponed the move to open a US consulate in Jerusalem, the newspaper Al-Quds reported, stating that this development is a result of pressure exerted by Israeli elements and the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on the Biden administration.

Protesters in Gaza City chanting anti-Israel slogans in solidarity with the Arabs in Jerusalem. Gaza, 2021. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS

The change in the Americans’ attitude comes as a result of significant opposition from Israel as well as from members of the Republican Party in Congress. The source for the report said that since the Israeli government is already preparing for a fight with the Biden administration over the Iranian nuclear issue, the Americans are not interested in another front.

Al-Quds noted in its report that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed in May to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the administration would reopen the consulate in the near future, but did not set a date.

A PA source, who was recently involved in a series of meetings with senior American officials, told TPS that “this move is not surprising as in recent months many indications have accumulated regarding the lukewarm American policy on the Palestinian issue.”

He said the Americans have made it clear that the Biden administration had not formulated any strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and that its policy focused on specific areas, including the economic survival of the Palestinian Authority, which led to the opening of economic dialogue in recent days between the PA and the US.

The US also sees an importance in continuing to support the UNRWA relief agency and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and it will focus on these areas, the Palestinian source said, adding that “the opening of the consulate is still on the table but a date has not yet been set.”

The source said that the Americans have made it clear that they do not intend to enter into diplomatic moves, including the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the PA, nor to show involvement in the internal affairs of the Palestinian Authority, including the elections.

The source also reported that despite the apparent American decision, the unit for Palestinian affairs at the American embassy, ​​which was established with the closure of the consulate and merged with the embassy, ​​has recently become an independent body and reports to Washington directly and not through the American embassy in Jerusalem. He said the PA was avoiding any contact with the embassy in Jerusalem and was in direct contact with the US State Department in Washington.

The report in Al Quds comes one day after an interview given by Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, to Al Ayam, in which she confirmed that Washington is committed to reopening the US Consulate General in Jerusalem and is working on all the details.

“These things involve certain actions and although the timing has not yet been set, we remain committed to this step,” she added.

Referring to the possibility of appointing the Consul General in Jerusalem before reopening the consulate, Nuland said “I’m not sure it makes sense to separate the issues but we are working on everything.”

Along with the discouragement in Ramallah, Nuland called on countries to support the Palestinian Authority financially and clarified that “we in the Biden Harris administration are happy with our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and are ready for regular high-level visits. We are trying to return to the joint discussions together and to do what we can to support the Palestinian people. ”

In recent months, the US has renewed economic support for the Palestinian Authority, providing more than $318 million to UNRWA, $150 million through USAID and another $ 40 million in security assistance.

Ramallah was not surprised by the report in the Al Quds newspaper. Senior officials have said in recent weeks that the disappointment with the US policy toward the PA is immense. According to them, the US is not expected to reopen PLO offices in Washington and that the continued payment of salaries to security prisoners by the PA significantly complicates the situation due to the charged atmosphere in Washington towards what is perceived as terrorist financing. Regarding the opening of the PLO mission in Washington, Nuland clarified that “this is a very complicated issue.”

Already a month ago Ramallah said that the gap between the US and the PA could also delay the opening of the American consulate, for which the US demanded a series of Palestinian steps that would be accepted by the Israeli public as positive steps and soften opposition to the opening of the consulate.

Palestinian sources say the US has presented a series of conditions that could delay the restoration of diplomatic relations with the administration, saying “the US believes the PA should stop paying salaries to prisoners, a move that is seen by many as supporting terrorism, and has called for a series of reforms,” a senior official said.

He added that “the sensitivity in the United States is so high that two senior PA officials who were about to arrive in New York last September were warned that they might be arrested for their involvement in paying salaries to terrorist prisoners.”

In Ramallah, they point the finger at Abbas, who has failed in his foreign policy as well as in his domestic policy and who turns out to lack leverage and persuasion in the US.

Fatah officials are urging Abbas to act against the American position and turn in the direction of a one-state solution, and others are calling on him to realize the threat he made at the UN and to withdraw from the agreements and the recognition of Israel.

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