Scoop: U.S. sending senior diplomat to Ramallah to reassure Palestinians
Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s most senior diplomat for the Middle East, will arrive in Israel this weekend for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah, three Israeli and Palestinian officials told Axios.
Why it matters: A central goal of the visit is to reassure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the Biden administration is committed to the Palestinians and a two-state solution, a source briefed on the trip said.
Driving the news: Israeli officials said Leaf is expected to arrive in Israel on Saturday. It will be her first visit to the region in her new role as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs.
- Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr arrived in Israel Wednesday to prepare for Leaf's visit.
- During her visit, Leaf will also speak to Palestinian and Israeli leadership about ways to reduce tensions following recent events in Jerusalem, Axios has learned.
- A State Department spokesperson said, "We have nothing to announce."
Behind the scenes: The visit follows a tough phone call that took place last week between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Abbas.
- Abbas is frustrated and furious about the U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what he sees as the Biden administration breaking promises it gave him in private and in public.
- "I am done. This is the end," Abbas told Blinken, according to a source briefed on the call.
- The source said Abbas also told Blinken that if the situation doesn’t change, the Palestinians will take retaliatory steps against Israel even if it also hurts them.
Blinken told Abbas he was considering appointing Amr as “special representative for Palestinian affairs," the source said.
- If appointed, Amr would effectively be a “non-resident consul general,” to the Palestinian Authority working from Washington.
- But Abbas wasn’t appeased by the potential appointment. The source said Abbas reminded Blinken the U.S. promised in May 2021 to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, which was the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority and was shut down by the Trump administration.
What’s next: The Biden administration is trying to come up with tangible deliverables for the Palestinians ahead of President Biden's visit to the Middle East planned for mid-July in order to reassure them and make sure the visit is a success.