While Israel has stood strong against the reopening of a U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority, the State Department has sneaked in a new position that strongly enhances U.S.-PA relations – and seems likely to undermine Israeli sovereignty in its own capital.
Hady Amr, leaving his post as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, will become the new special representative for Palestinian affairs – the first time the U.S. has created such a position.
It appears that the best summation of Amr’s new assignment is: to serve as a stand-in for the currently-closed U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until such time as it can be reopened. It is well-known, for reasons outlined briefly below, the consulate, or any American channel that allows Jerusalem Arabs to avoid going through Israel in their relations with the United States, constitutes an outright assault on Israeli sovereignty in its own capital city.
PA chief Abu Mazen originally objected to the new position. He demanded that the U.S. first reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, which would essentially serve as an embassy to the PA.
When he was reassured that the U.S. remains “committed to re-opening our Consulate General in Jerusalem,” as a State Department official said, he was placated – likely with the assurance that the new position would do the job instead until the consulate is reopened.
Speaking of Abu Mazen, Hady Amr did not seem to mind that Abu Mazen is now in his 18th year as PA president, though he was elected for a four-year term, and that new elections are not on the horizon. In a special State Dept. briefing via telephone last week, Amr was asked, “Does the U.S. support holding Palestinian elections?”
“Up to Them, No Rush”
His answer was not quite along the lines of the traditional American position of “making the world safe for democracy.” He rather responded that the “Biden administration has been clear all along that elections are a decision for the Palestinian people and leadership to decide. It’s their decision to have elections.”
The newly-created position that Amr will man raises very critical questions: “Does it include purview over eastern Jerusalem? Are Arab residents of Israel in eastern Jerusalem supposed to engage with the new office, or with the U.S. Embassy to Israel?”
We referred precisely these questions to the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs, which directed us to its press office in Washington. The answer left us wanting more: “The Washington-based Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs will engage closely with the Palestinians and their leadership and, together with Ambassador Nides and his team, continue to engage with Israel on Palestinian related issues. Our Jerusalem-based Office of Palestinian Affairs will work closely with the Special Representative.” Jerusalem was otherwise not mentioned in the response.
The vagueness of the answer is not surprising – because the issues are potentially explosive. For if in fact Arab citizens of Israel need not turn to the U.S. Embassy in Israel but rather to a “stand-in” for a PA consulate/embassy, this would be nothing less than what Israel has stated all along: the undermining of Israeli sovereignty in its own capital.
Can it even be imagined that France, let’s say, would open an office in Washington for Native Indian affairs? This would be as if saying, “The Indians deserve their own identity, independent of the United States.” The only difference is that the Indians are no longer fighting for their independence and land, while the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority most definitely are.
Amr himself made a worrisome statement during the press briefing: “I want to be clear that the U.S. also remains committed to reopening our consulate general in Jerusalem. We continue to believe that reopening the consulate would put the U.S. in the best position to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people.”
Over a year ago, when the issue of reopening the American consulate for the PA first arose, former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that it “means recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine… a red line that cannot be crossed.” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King called the initiative “a spiteful move that seeks to undermine Israel’s absolute sovereignty over Jerusalem.” – sovereignty that continues to be under fire from those who wish to see Jerusalem become the capital of a new Arab state.
Furthermore, the very initiative of establishing a high-level position to upgrade the PA’s U.S. relations and standing in Washington encourages it not to make concessions and thus perpetuates the state of non-peace – or worse.
KeepJerusalem calls upon the Israeli government to ensure that Hady Amr’s job remains only to encourage the PA to “undertake serious reforms” – one of the challenges that former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk reportedly said Amr would face in his new post.
Terrorism? Ho Hum
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be Amr’s direction. Not only did he not demand new elections, he had nothing to say against Palestinian terrorism. When asked, “What is the U.S. doing to prevent escalation in the West Bank?,” he expressed no specific position, but only, “We are closely tracking every reported incident every day, and we are deeply aware of the tragic loss of life that we’re seeing in the territories. … While we’re going to stay engaged, I really want to stress in the first instance, it’s up to the parties on the ground to take the steps needed to de-escalate the situation. … We are going to stay focused on our goal of working towards and advancing towards equal measures of security, freedom, and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike…”
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality published the zoning description for the future U.S. Embassy to Israel earlier this month – and PA figures have begun to accuse Israel of stealing the land on which it is to be built.
These two dangerous developments – the dangerous upgrade of Washington’s relations with the PA, and the outrageous claims against Israeli law – present potentially great challenges to Israeli sovereignty in its united and historic capital. If and when we overcome them, the national rewards will be historic.
For information on how to participate in KeepJerusalem’s program to keep Jerusalem united and Israeli, visit www.KeepJerusalem.org.