US cues upgrade of diplomatic mission to Palestinians

East Jerusalem consulate was closed in 2019 under former US President Donald Trump, who moved the diplomatic mission to the US embassy in Israel.

US mission
The Trump administration shuttered the US Jerusalem consulate, an office that for years served as the de facto embassy to the Palestinians [File: Ariel Schalit/the Associated Press]

The administration of United States President Joe Biden has signalled it is upgrading its diplomatic mission to Palestinians, which is currently located within the US embassy in Jerusalem, after former President Donald Trump downgraded the status of the mission.

The Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU), which operated within the US embassy in Israel, will now be redesignated as the US Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA), and, while remaining in the embassy in Israel, will report directly to the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the US Department of State “on substantive matters”.

The PAU was created in 2019 when Trump decided to close the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem, which had served as the de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

The move, while incremental, indicates the latest shift in the US’s approach as it seeks to mend frayed relations with Palestinians that emerged under Trump.

The Biden administration did not give any updates on pledges to reopen the consulate.

“The name change was done to better align with State Department nomenclature,” a spokesperson said. “The new OPA operating structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement.”

Following the closure of the consulate by Trump, the staff and functions of the mission remained largely identical, but the downgrade meant they fell under the US ambassador to Israel and the mission no longer maintained a distinct US-Palestinian bilateral track.

Palestinian officials did not immediately comment on the redesignation, which came as Palestinian officials said they expected to host senior State Department envoy Hady Amr on Thursday in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in the occupied West Bank.

The closure of the consulate and the decision by Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 enraged Palestinians, who want occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later illegally annexed it, calls Jerusalem its indivisible capital.

Israel has said it would not consent to reopening the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem and proposed that a consulate be opened in Ramallah instead.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected that plan, saying it will “only accept a US consulate in Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies