When U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke about President Joe Biden's commitment to open a consulate to the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, it set off a firestorm, with many claiming it presented a shift in U.S. policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Scrambling to diffuse the situation, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby made it clear that Mr. Sullivan misspoke, but reiterated the Biden's administration commitment to reopen the consulate in the eastern part of the city that was closed by the Trump administration in 2019.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr told reporters on Wednesday that reopening the consulate is the best way to support the Palestinian people.
Amr, who is the first to hold this office, said the move presents an opportunity to successfully encounter the unique challenges of Israeli-Palestinian relations. He also said he will work directly with U.S ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in order to strive toward the mutual goal.
"President Biden is committed to the two-state solution according to the 1967 lines of partition," said Amr. "The Palestinians deserve a sovereign state with territorial integrity so they can live in security and peace alongside Israel. In accordance with that objective, we believe that reopening the consulate is the best way to support the Palestinian people."
In response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicating that Palestinians do not trust Washington, Amr said: "I'm just focused on building bilateral relations between Israel and the Palestinians in order to improve the life for the average Palestinian."
While he couldn't provide a precise date for the reopening of the consulate, Amr did say that he is already working on the issue from the U.S. Embassy's offices in Jerusalem.
When asked about the escalation in violence after the Israeli elections earlier this month, he said the Biden administration was keeping a watchful eye and was deeply saddened about every tragic loss of life.
"I will neither speculate nor intervene in how Israel is forming its new coalition. It is incumbent upon both sides to exercise restraint and stop the violence.
"A few weeks ago I came back from visiting Ramallah and Jerusalem, where we had the first dialogue with the Palestinians in six years. We met with representatives from both the PA and the private sector, coming up with ways to go the Palestinian economy."
Amr said that the existence of the Abraham Accords, which helped open up Israeli relations with Arab Gulf states, while welcome and important, do not represent a substitute for direct Israeli-Palestinian engagement, but did commend Qatar for helping improve Palestinian lives.
With regards to finally having Palestinian elections, he said: "The Biden administration believes this is a choice the Palestinian people should make. We were happy to see local elections earlier this year."