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Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Alex Brandon/POOL/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would be reopening the Consulate General in Jerusalem that handled relations with the Palestinians but was shut down by the Trump administration.

The state of play: Blinken made the announcement after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and hours after he had raised the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Why it matters: The consulate oversaw U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority for more than two decades before being merged into the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Reopening the consulate will be a major step toward normalizing U.S.-Palestinian ties, but it also requires Israeli approval.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the move was the "natural next step toward restoring ties with the Palestinians," while Blinken said the consulate would also be used to re-engage with civil society and the business sector. He didn't offer a timeline for the reopening.

Behind the scenes: Netanyahu raised reservations with Blinken during their meeting and said he'd prefer it if the consulate were to remain as part of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, rather than an independent diplomatic mission, Israeli officials say. The State Department didn’t immediately offer comment.

  • Hady Amr, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, raised the consulate issue last week with officials in Netanyahu's office and the Foreign Ministry while serving as Blinken's envoy during the Gaza crisis. The Israeli officials say Amr received a noncommittal response.
  • The sense of urgency grew in Washington during the crisis, with officials at the State Department feeling at times that they were "flying blind" without a consulate to engage with the Palestinian side, a source familiar with the issue said.

In his comments on Tuesday, Blinken stressed that reopening the consulate would make it easier to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Gaza and reconstruction efforts with the UN and the Palestinian Authority.

  • Blinken added the Biden administration would be asking Congress to approve an additional $75 million dollars in assistance for the reconstruction of Gaza in 2021 and another $30 million dollars for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees.

The backstory: The consulate dates back to 1844 and served for 25 years as the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians before being shut down by the Trump administration and merged into the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in 2019.

Go deeper

May 25, 2021 - World

Blinken in Israel to push for stabilizing Gaza ceasefire

Israeli Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskelas greeting Secretary of State Antony Blinkenas he steps off the plane upon arrival at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Brandon/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken landed in Israel on Tuesday, the first stop on his first trip to the Middle East since assuming office.

Why it matters: State Department officials, who are realistic about the current low chances of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, say the visit will focus on stabilizing the Gaza ceasefire and start discussions on humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

May 24, 2021 - World

Blinken to meet with Israeli officials in the Middle East this week

Antony Blinken at a press conference on May 21. Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East to meet with Israeli leaders this week as part of the Biden administration's attempt to solidify the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the White House confirmed Monday.

Why it matters: Biden's strategy to deal with the crisis — which left nearly 250 Palestinians dead over 11 days of fighting — is intense but quiet diplomacy with Israel and Egypt. The current ceasefire held over the weekend.

Over 500 ex-staffers urge Biden to "hold Israel accountable for its actions"

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than 500 former Biden campaign and Democratic Party staffers signed an open letter released Monday urging President Biden to do more to protect Palestinians and "hold Israel accountable for its actions."

Why it matters: Progressives have ramped up pressure on Biden in recent weeks to confront Israel on what they've described as human rights abuses in Gaza, where Israel's government carried out a military offensive in response to rocket attacks by Hamas.