The US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem said on Thursday that it had been redesignated and will report directly to Washington “on substantive matters”, signalling an upgrade in ties before a planned visit by President Joe Biden.
The former “Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU)” has been renamed the “US Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA)”. Before becoming the PAU, it had been the US consulate in Jerusalem and a focus of Palestinian statehood goals in the city.
Mr Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, outraged Palestinians — and delighted Israelis — by formally closing the consulate and redesignating it as the PAU within the US embassy that was moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018.
“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,” a representative for the mission said.
“The name change was done to better align with State Department nomenclature,” the representative said. “The new OPA operating structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement.”
Palestinian officials had no immediate comment. They were due on Thursday to host State Department envoy Hady Amr in Ramallah, their seat of government in the occupied West Bank.
Under the Trump-era redesignation, the former consulate's staff and functions remained largely identical, but they were subordinate to the embassy rather than on a strict US-Palestinian bilateral track.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and saw Mr Trump's embassy move as undermining that aspiration. Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in 1967, calls the city its indivisible capital.
The Biden administration has pledged to reopen the consulate, but Israel has said it will not consent to this and proposed that a consulate be opened in Ramallah instead.
Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Thursday's redesignation of the Jerusalem mission.