US secretary of state Antony Blinken has announced the reopening of the US Consulate General in Jerusalem — a move that restores ties with the Palestinians that had been downgraded by the Trump administration.
The consulate long served as an autonomous office in charge of diplomatic relations with the Palestinians, but Donald Trump downgraded its operations and placed them under the authority of his ambassador to Israel when he moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
The move infuriated the Palestinians, who view east Jerusalem as occupied territory and the capital of their future state.
Mr Blinken announced the step on Tuesday after a meeting in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The US is trying to bolster Mr Abbas in his rivalry with Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group and on the international stage.
“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom opportunity and dignity,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday Mr Blinken had vowed to “rally international support” to aid Gaza following a devastating war there while keeping any assistance out of the hands of its militant Hamas rulers, as he began a regional tour to shore up last week’s ceasefire.
Mr Blinken, who spoke after meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the US would work to address the “grave humanitarian situation” in the coastal territory but would also ensure that Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers do not benefit from reconstruction assistance.
The 11-day war between Israel and Hamas killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused widespread destruction in the impoverished coastal territory.
The truce that came into effect on Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the underlying issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something Mr Blinken acknowledged after meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges. And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild,” he said.
“The United States will work to rally international support around that effort while also making our own significant contributions.”
He added that the US would work with its partners “to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance.”
Mr Blinken will not be meeting with Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and which Israel and the US consider a terrorist organisation.
He addressed the larger conflict, saying: “We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity.”
But the top US diplomat faces the same obstacles that have stifled a wider peace process for more than a decade, including a hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites.
The Biden administration had initially hoped to avoid being drawn into the intractable conflict and focus on other foreign policy priorities before the violence broke out.
Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, is fighting for his political life after a fourth inconclusive election in two years. He faces mounting criticism from Israelis who say he ended the offensive prematurely, without forcibly halting rocket attacks or dealing a heavier blow to Hamas.
Mr Netanyahu hardly mentioned the Palestinians in his remarks, in which he warned of a “very powerful” response if Hamas breaks the ceasefire.
He spoke of “building economic growth” in the occupied West Bank, but said there will be no peace until the Palestinians recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. The Palestinians have long objected to that language, saying it undermines the rights of Israel’s own Palestinian minority.
The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site revered by Jews and Muslims that has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years.
The protests were directed at Israel’s policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
The truce remains tenuous since tensions are still high in Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian families is not yet resolved.