Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’

CHICAGO: Hady Amr, the new US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, described his appointment as an “unprecedented” move that will “elevate” the American relationship with the Palestinian people.

It will also help to coordinate engagement with the US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem, which was established in June, he added.

Amr was appointed to his new post Nov. 22. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the US Department of State.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Amr said he has two main objectives: “To advance and work toward equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity and justice and dignity for the Palestinian people; and to take steps to try to try to preserve and advance the two-state solution along the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed (land) swaps.”

He also stressed that President Joe Biden remains “committed” to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was shut down in 2018 by the former Trump administration.

He also acknowledged that his appointment comes at a crucial time, as tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated in the past year.

“It is very clear that 2022 has been an extremely painful year on the ground over there,” said Amr.

“In fact, for West Bank Palestinians it has been the deadliest year since 2004, with about 150 West Bank Palestinians killed out of about 200 overall, alongside 31 Israeli deaths, and also over 9,000 Palestinian injuries and over 150 Israeli injuries. So we are aware the situation on the ground is very difficult.

“I’ll be engaging with the Palestinian people and leadership to better understand the challenges we face, and to better align our policy to address those challenges. And I’ll also be engaging with the Israeli government and other governments in the region to try to advance our policy objectives.”

Amr said his appointment reflects Biden’s commitment to pursuing efforts that can ensure Israelis and Palestinians are able to “live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, dignity and justice,” and to supporting a two-state solution to a conflict that has persisted for more than 70 years.

“The creation of this position is a step forward for the US-Palestinian relationship,” said Amr. “It is also an unprecedented step, elevating the attention that will be paid to issues of concern to Palestinians in Washington.

“And so our goal, week-on-week, month-on-month, is to seek ways to make the world a better place … that is our objective and that is how we plan to move forward.

“I think the administration and the secretary of state felt it was important for the administration to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the Palestinian people. And so, they sought to create this position, for the first time ever to have a Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs engaging with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. In my new role, my primary responsibilities will be to do just that.”

Although he declined to go into detail about what actions he has taken since his appointment a little over a week ago, Amr said the Biden administration has already done a lot to improve the lives of Palestinians.

“I don’t want to speak about any steps in the last week but what I do want to point to is the commitment of the United States to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“We are now the world’s largest donor to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East); we have given more than $680 million in the past 18 months. We’ve restarted our assistance, through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), to the Palestinian people and we are tripling that assistance, nearly tripling it this year from $75 million last year to $219 million in the year ahead. And we are continuing to provide a full range of assistance.

“In my new role, essentially, I am going to be focusing in a little bit more on this assistance and making sure it aligns with our foreign policy objectives as the United States.”

Amr also highlighted a key issue that needs to be addressed by all sides as he pursues his goals in his new position.

“The key thing, as we have said for some time, is we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence and to contain the armed conflict,” he said.

“The US and international partners stand ready to help but we can’t substitute for vital actions by the parties themselves. So when it comes to whatever those actions are — whether it is Palestinian violence against Israelis, Israeli violence against Palestinians, home demolitions, settlement expansion — these are all areas where the United States cares deeply and where we will continue to address those issues with the parties.

“But we call on the parties themselves to do their utmost to contain violence and armed conflict.”

Amr said that in his new role he expects to travel to the Middle East more often than he has in the past.

“I will be able to focus the main portion of my time on engagement with the Palestinian people and leadership and on Palestinian-related issues with other governments in the region, including, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and other governments, as well as with European governments,” he said.

In addition to his exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Amr also held a press briefing on Wednesday during which he reiterated Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution, and to the fundamental principle that both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal right to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and dignity.

“We remain committed to reopening a consulate in Jerusalem,” he said at the briefing. “We continue to believe it is an important way to engage with the Palestinian people … and we will continue to discuss the timeline.”

Amr also reiterated that he will work to strengthen the US relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, and “engage on important reforms we believe are important to make Palestinian society more vibrant and more free.”

On the issue of Palestinian elections, he said: “Elections are a decision for the Palestinian people.”

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