Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the Biden administration would reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, which had served as a de facto embassy for the Palestinians until former President Donald Trump shuttered it in 2019.
“That’s an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Blinken also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials Tuesday.
Netanyahu said he and Blinken discussed ways to prevent Hamas from restocking its supply of rockets and other means of aggression. The two men also tangled over the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu argued that restoring the deal, which the U.S. withdrew from during the Trump administration, would allow Iran to acquire a nuclear arsenal. Blinken noted the agreement sharply limited Iran’s nuclear enrichment abilities and that the country’s compliance was confirmed by international inspectors.
Blinken arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, his first trip to the region coming on the heels of an 11-day conflict between Israeli and Hamas that killed more than 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. A cease-fire ending the violence went into effect on Friday.
Related: Biden administration dampens expectations on Israeli-Palestinian peace process as Blinken visits Middle East
Palestinian workers salvage items from a damaged factory in Gaza's industrial area, on May 25, 2021, which was hit by Israeli strikes prior to a cease-fire ending 11 days of deadly violence between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement which runs the enclave. – US top diplomat Antony Blinken vowed support to help rebuild the battered Gaza Strip and shore up a truce between Hamas and Israel, but insisted the territory's Islamist militant rulers would not benefit from any aid. (Photo: MAHMUD HAMS, AFP via Getty Images)
Biden dispatched Blinken to the Middle East to help ensure the cease-fire sticks and to reassure both Israelis and Palestinians that the U.S. would remain engaged in the region. Biden has vowed to help with a massive recovery effort in Gaza, which bore the brunt of the destruction after being pounded by Israeli missiles for 11 days. Hamas launched thousands of rockets toward Israel, but the vast majority were intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system.
Blinken said the White House would request $75 million in additional development and economic assistance to the Palestinians for the current fiscal year, and he said the U.S. would also give $32 million to the United Nation’s humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza.
The 11-day long military conflict between Gaza and Israel has come to a halt, and people in Gaza took to the streets to celebrate. (Photo: Yasser Qudih via Storyful)
“This relief is urgent. We have to respond to the profound need of people in this moment,” Blinken said.
Beyond the immediate recovery funds, he said the U.S. would work with international partners to promote “economic stability and progress” in the West Bank, which Abbas leads, and Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas.
Blinken did not give a timeline for reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. “We’re just beginning the process,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the steps were “all part of our efforts to rebuild that relationship” with the Palestinians after four years in which they were sidelined by the U.S.
The Trump administration slashed U.S. funding and severed diplomatic channels with the Palestinians. And in 2018, Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing Israel’s claim on the disputed capital and holy city for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Trump’s decision to move the embassy upended decades of U.S. foreign policy that sought to defer the status of Jerusalem to be resolved as part of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The Trump administration shuttered the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem in 2019, saying it was no longer needed because the new U.S. embassy had taken over its functions.
Until Tuesday, Biden’s advisers had been mum about the consulate, even as White House signaled it would keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
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