US officials visit region to 'deepen US cooperation with Israel and the PA'

The visit comes two days after the State Department signaled that it upgraded its Jerusalem office to the Palestinians, without opening a consulate in Israel’s capital.

 Palestinian President Abbas meets with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Leaf in Ramallah, June 11, 2022 (photo credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Palestinian President Abbas meets with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Leaf in Ramallah, June 11, 2022
(photo credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

WASHINGTON - Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf arrived in Ramallah on Saturday to meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas. 

According to the State Department, the two discussed "the US-Palestinian relationship, US assistance to Palestinians, deepening ties, and how Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity."

The meeting is a part a four-day visit to the region “to consult with Israeli and Palestinian partners on a range of priorities,” the State Department announced.

According to the State Department, in addition to meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Assistant Secretary Leaf will meet with representatives of Israeli and Palestinian civil society. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr and NSC Director for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Cynthia Cook will join Leaf.

The visit comes two days after the State Department signaled that it upgraded its Jerusalem office to the Palestinians, without opening a consulate in Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian Affairs Unit, which operates within the US Embassy to Israel since it moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, changed its name to the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem” on Twitter.

 Palestinian President Abbas meets with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Leaf in Ramallah, June 11, 2022 (credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Palestinian President Abbas meets with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Leaf in Ramallah, June 11, 2022 (credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

An embassy spokesperson said that “the name change was done to better align with State Department nomenclature.”

But the statement indicated that this was more than a name change, with the spokesperson saying there is a “new OPA reporting structure... designed to strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement. The OPA operates under the auspices of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and reports on substantive matters directly to the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the State Department. It continues to be led in Jerusalem by the chief of the office, George Noll.”

The change comes as the US has sought to re-open its consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, but Israel has remained steadfast in its opposition to the move, which the government has argued undermines its sovereignty in its capital.

The Palestinian Affairs Unit was previously a US consulate in Jerusalem, which was closed when president Donald Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. Its functions and staff are mostly the same as that of the consulate.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report