The Palestinian Authority (PA) has again demanded that the US fulfill its promise and open a consulate in Jerusalem designated for PA Arabs. During a meeting between PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and a delegation of members of Congress in Ramallah last week, Shtayyeh demanded the opening of the consulate “to promote a two-state solution.”
A Palestinian Authority source now says that although a date has not yet been set for the official opening of the American Consulate in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU) headed by George Noll actually serves as a consulate for all intents and purposes.
With the closure of the consulate on Agron Street and its merger with the embassy in Jerusalem, the consulate became a Palestinian Affairs Unit. It has been subordinate to the embassy since it moved to Jerusalem, but in recent months the PAU, which continues to operate from its headquarters on Agron Street in western Jerusalem, has become a consulate for all intents and purposes, according to the Palestinian Authority source.
For example, George Knoll reports directly to the State Department and is no longer subordinate to the ambassador, as he was in the days of David Friedman. This allows the US to receive independent reports that are not subject to the ambassador’s review and are supposed to reflect “the Palestinian reality.”
Noll pursues an independent policy in accordance with Washington’s guidelines vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority leadership and has held numerous meetings in Ramallah with representatives from the various Arab sectors and organizations. Recently he met with the heads of the churches in eastern Jerusalem, who are conducting a fierce campaign against Israel.
Noll has already mediated in at least one crisis between Israel and the PA. A very senior Palestinian Authority official told TPS that Noll prevented another crisis between Israel and the PA several months ago, when Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered a deduction of NIS 600 million from taxes transferred to the Palestinian Authority for payments to terrorist prisoners. He worked with Israel and, according to several sources, brought about the creative solution of granting a loan to the Palestinian Authority, as a bypass line for the tax money.
Noll is also responsible, according to the Palestinian Authority source, for transferring the budgets to UNRWA in the PA and Gaza, and for transferring of $15 million to the Arab hospitals in Jerusalem, and is coordinating the activities of the USAID delegation working with Arab economic sectors.
Recently, USAID staff met with Arab tourism officials and hotel owners in eastern Jerusalem to discuss the effects of the Coronavirus crisis on the industry.
“Noll has in fact become the United States’ economic ambassador to the Palestinians and is currently managing all economic contacts between the United States and the Palestinian Authority,” the source said.
As part of the US policy to give independence to the PAU’s activities, Noll accompanied the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visited PA head Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, while Ambassador Tom Nides accompanied her in her meetings with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Noll also accompanied the visits of Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the US Department of State, to Ramallah.
“This is how the Americans created a separation which encapsulates a real political statement,” said the Palestinian source.
However, the road to the consulate is still long. A senior PA official recently told TPS that “the US has sent messages to Abu Mazen [Abbas] stating that significant progress in the political process and the opening of the consulate in Jerusalem will be possible when the Palestinian Authority holds elections and renews its legitimacy.”
He added that the US further expects the PA to stop transferring salaries to security prisoners, and begin a series of measures to decentralize Abbas’ powers.
Palestinian Authority sources say that in messages conveyed by ambassadors and diplomats stationed in eastern Jerusalem as well as senior EU officials, the unequivocal demand arose to hold elections in the PA before the Europeans act to press Israel on the political issue.