US's first representative to the Palestinians discusses new role amid heightened tensions
In his newly established role as US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, Hady Amr has an important and challenging job ahead of him. The main aim of his post is to strengthen US relations with Palestinians.
This comes at a time of heightened tension in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The recent election of a right-wing Israeli government, the designation of Palestinian NGOs as 'terrorist organisations,' the increasing frequency of violent Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, and the investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Amr spent nearly half an hour on Wednesday with reporters in which he gave an overview of his new role and delicately answered difficult questions from journalists, starting with those from Palestinian news outlets.
The special representative started the briefing by emphasising that US President Joe Biden is committed to a two-state solution and reopening the consulate general in Jerusalem.
"Really, I can't stress that line enough. Equal measures of freedom, equal measures of dignity, equal measures of justice are important in their own right and as a means to advancing a negotiated two-state solution," said Amr.
"We continue to believe that reopening the consulate would put the US in the best position to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people," he said.
When asked if he could give an estimate of when the consulate would reopen, he was unable to give a timeline, though he reiterated the administration's commitment to reopen it.
Another caller asked the special representative if a two-state solution still exists if the new Israeli government is not committed to it.
Amr said that "what we are focused on is – in the immediate term – lifting up and improving Palestinian lives while we also look for ways to restore a political horizon and return to a two-state solution."
It was clear from Amr's carefully worded answers that he is working under considerable constraints, given ongoing tensions in the region. However, this step to appoint a special representative and to engage with the Palestinians in a way not seen by the previous administration does appear to show a serious measure of goodwill.
The coming months, with Israel's newly elected right-wing government and the newly elected Republican-led House of Representatives, could test the US administration's attempts at incremental engagement with the Palestinians.