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JERUSALEM – The Biden administration announced a dramatic yet partial reversal of Donald Trump’s closure of the consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem by opening a “U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs” in the city.
Biden’s move is viewed by some as rewarding the Palestinian leadership after a wave of terrorism during which two Palestinians wielding an ax and knife murdered three Israelis in the town of Elad in May.
The previous month, Raad Hazem, a 28-year-old Palestinian gunman from Jenin, killed three people and wounded six others in a crowded bar in Tel Aviv.
A prominent former Trump official sees the upgrade of the Palestinian Affairs Unit, until now part of the embassy to Israel, as a setback for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
“We had a consul-general in West Jerusalem for decades dedicated to Palestinian affairs, which meant Palestinians had to cross into West Jerusalem for any consular affairs related to the United States,” Victoria Coates, a former deputy national security adviser for the Middle East and North Africa under Trump, told Fox News Digital.
“Since 2018, their affairs have been handled by a proper U.S. Embassy, which also happens to be in West Jerusalem. This unnecessary change with the Palestinians will only prolong the stalemate between them and Israel and will not bring us any closer to peace than the old ConGen [consulate-general] did [before Trump].”
Israel’s former Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also weighed in.
“The Biden administration is reverting to past failed practices,” Danon told Fox News Digital. “Although the announced changes are essentially bureaucratic in nature, with amendments to names and reporting lines, it is the symbolism of the move which hits home for some. It signals an upgrade in relations with the possibility of more fruitless promises to come.
“The Abraham Accords moved beyond broken paradigms and looked for new solutions,” added Danon, who is also chairman of World Likud. “This new path has been astoundingly successful. It is perhaps time for the current U.S. administration to cast aside past failed policies and look to set new, sound strategy.”
The Trump administration helped to negotiate groundbreaking agreements to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
The Israeli government vehemently opposes a reopening of the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem because it would undercut the holy city as the undivided capital of Israel. Jerusalem proposes that the U.S. open its Palestinian consulate in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine Authority.
Fox News Digital sent questions to the U.S. State Department,Thursday. In an emailed response a State Department spokesperson stated that, “The former Palestinian Affairs Unit is now called the Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA). It continues to be led on the ground in Jerusalem by the Chief of the Office, George Noll.”
The statement concluded, “The OPA operates under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and reports on substantive matters directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department.
The new OPA reporting structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic and public diplomacy engagement.”
Sign at the State Department building in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2019.
“Having been unable to force upon Israel their plan to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, this is a transparent attempt by the Biden administration to go round the back door, with a de facto consulate in clear attempt to water down the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Arsen Ostrovsky, an Israeli human rights attorney and chairman and CEO of the International Legal Forum, told Fox News Digital.
“The move, a direct challenge to Israel’s sovereignty, which potentially might also breach the Jerusalem Embassy Act, will only reward Palestinian intransigence and violence, as we have seen in the past months.”
The U.S. Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and calls for it to remain an undivided city.
The diplomatic upgrade means Palestinians will deal directly with the State Department in Washington rather than first go through the American ambassador to Israel.
Israeli flag flying over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
The department has renamed the Palestinian Affairs Unit The U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs. According to the Associated Press the office, now independent of the Jerusalem embassy, said the change was meant to “strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement.”
“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,” according to the statement, which also said the U.S. was reinstating a system in place for decades before Trump’s decision, according to the Associated Press report.
But it falls short of Biden administration pledges — and Palestinian demands — for the U.S. to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, which for decades functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on Middle East affairs. You can follow Benjamin Weinthal on Twitter @BenWeinthal.