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Foggy Bottom courts Palestinians, as Ramallah insults Washington

The State Department has said it wants to “rebuild the relationship” with Palestinians, said Andrew Miller, deputy assistant secretary of state.

Andrew P. Miller
Andrew P. Miller, deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs in the U.S. State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Credit: U.S. State Department.

In a recording that leaked last year, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Palestinian Americans that he called U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken a “little boy.” In October 2022, Abbas told Russian President Vladimir Putin, “We don’t trust America,” and he and other Palestinian leaders often attack the Biden administration for what they claim is a failure to live up to promises.

Despite Palestinian leaders frequently trashing the Biden administration and the United States, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Andrew Miller told JNS on June 5 that Washington has demonstrated that it wants to build a relationship with Ramallah.

“Since the beginning of the Biden administration, we’ve been clear that we wanted to rebuild the relationship with both the Palestinian leadership and with the Palestinian people,” Miller said. “I think we’ve demonstrated that not just in word but in deed.”

Since assuming office, the Biden administration has provided nearly $1 billion in assistance to Palestinians, including making vaccines available during the pandemic, as well as providing food and educational opportunities for this population, according to Miller. 

“Things that are clearly in the best interest of the Palestinian people writ large,” he said.

Miller assumed his current role last November, replacing Hady Amr, who was promoted to a new position: Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs. The new role was intended, in part, to show Ramallah that the Biden administration was serious about addressing its concerns.

Asked if it has done anything to improve ties with the P.A., Miller talked instead about Amr, who with his team in Jerusalem is “engaging with a broad swath of Palestinian society.”

“We think that the creation of this position is a crucial tool in our efforts to strengthen our relationship with the Palestinians, both in terms of extending the conversations that we have but also enabling us to have broader outreach to a wider spectrum of Palestinian society than was the case previously,” Miller said.

Despite Ramallah’s lack of cooperation and gratitude, Miller said Washington and its partners are leaving the door open for the P.A. to participate in the Negev Forum, reportedly scheduled to convene later this month in Morocco.

“All Negev Forum members remain open to Palestinian participation,” Miller told JNS. “We think that it’s an opportunity for the Palestinians to pursue the interests near and dear to their people.”

Border opening, work permits serve ‘mutual interests’

Foggy Bottom continues to think improved relations between Israel and others in the region “can have a direct and tangible positive impact on the Palestinian people,” said Miller. “It’s also good for Israel because tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians present a threat to Israeli security and to the Israeli way of life at times.”

“That’s the last thing that the administration wants to see,” he said.

Miller declined to identify or describe any Ramallah requests or demands in exchange for participating in the Negev Forum. He told JNS that the U.S. State Department continues to convey to Ramallah the value of participating, “and we’re listening to their perspectives.”

Hady Amr
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, April 1, 2021. Credit: U.S. State Department.

“We’re listening to what they have to say. But ultimately, we believe that the Palestinians should seize the opportunity to participate as part of this collective of countries,” he said.

The Biden administration’s top concern in his file is “rising instability” in Judea and Samaria, “and the prospect of further violence, both there and in Israel,” noted Miller. “We are working very closely with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with some of our regional partners, to pursue measures that will hopefully de-escalate tensions and restore some measure of calm for both Israelis and for Palestinians.”

Miller said it is “certainly positive” that Israel recently extended hours of operation at the Allenby border crossing and increased work permits for residents of Gaza. Those actions “serve the mutual interests of the United States, of Israel and the Palestinians,” he added.

Given the situation’s severity, said Miller, “additional steps are going to be required to de-escalate tensions and try to achieve some greater degree of calm.”

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