Joe Biden has appointed a new special representative for Palestinian affairs, a significant upgrade in relations with Ramallah, despite the fact the American diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, closed by Donald Trump in 2019, is yet to reopen.
The White House informed Congress on Tuesday that it had promoted Hady Amr, previously the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, to the newly created, Washington-based role, Axios and the Times of Israel reported.
Amr will work closely with the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and with diplomats at the Jerusalem-based office of Palestinian affairs, the reports said.
The move comes amid deteriorating conditions in the occupied West Bank: 2022 is already the deadliest year for Palestinians living in the territory and in annexed East Jerusalem since 2005, with more than 130 Palestinians killed in fighting.
It is understood that the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, was initially hesitant to accept the idea of a new special representative role when it was proposed earlier this year, fearing it would mean that Biden’s campaign pledge to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem would not materialise.
US officials, including the ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, have repeatedly emphasised that Washington remains committed to reopening the Jerusalem mission and to a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.
Amr, 58, a Lebanese American, worked as an economist and foreign policy analyst before joining the Clinton administration’s department of defence. He has served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs for the last two years, and is held in high regard by Israeli and Palestinian diplomats.
During a visit to the region last week, Amr reportedly urged officials from the corruption-plagued PA to undertake serious reforms in order to bolster its legitimacy, and told Israeli officials that they must do more to prop up the PA, amid fears that the de facto Palestinian government body is losing control in cities in the north of the West Bank. For the most part, Israel and the PA coordinate on security issues.
Israel must also follow up on recent pledges to improve living standards and strengthen the struggling economies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to help quell the violence, Amr is reported to have said.
Israel’s incoming far-right religious government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is unlikely to be eager to fulfil the previous administration’s promises.