Region must work to 'lift up' Palestinians, says first US Palestinian envoy

Veteran diplomat Hady Amr appointed to the newly created office amid historic levels of violence in the West Bank

Hady Amr, Director, Brookings Doha Centre.
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Washington's first special envoy for Palestinian Affairs has used his debut remarks to say that establishing relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours “is not a substitute” for “lifting up Palestinian lives”.

Negotiated under president Donald Trump, the 2020 Abraham Accords saw the UAE and Bahrain sign their first agreements, with Israel. Morocco and Sudan joined later.

“The Abraham Accords have enabled Arab governments to more closely engage with the government of Israel … they're not in any way a substitute for the important work that needs to be done to lift up Palestinian lives and to advance Israel-Palestinian peace,” said US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr on Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden's administration vowed to expand those historic agreements in its national security strategy, amid criticism that the accords ignored the plight of Palestinians.

Mr Amr said the creation of his new role is “unprecedented” in Washington's efforts to bolster engagement with Palestinian issues.

“This move is completely consistent with the Biden administration's commitment to strengthen US engagement with the Palestinian people,” he said.

Mr Amr assumed his new role just after one of the bloodiest days in months of violence in the West Bank.

Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man during a Tuesday operation in the occupied West Bank, raising to five the number of Palestinians killed in less than 24 hours of fighting. A female Israeli soldier was also seriously wounded when she was rammed by a car.

It is the latest in an escalating bout of violence in the aftermath of a Jerusalem bombing that killed two Israelis last week.

Mr Amr told reporters on Wednesday that Washington is “deeply aware of the tragic loss of life” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and would not speculate on how a new historically right-wing Israeli government is going to engage with the issue.

“We are going to stay focused on our goal of working towards and advancing towards equal measures of security, freedom, and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said.

The special representative also stressed he is committed to opening a consulate general in Jerusalem.

A mourner at the funeral of Raed Al Nasan in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 30. Reuters

Israel remains Washington's closest ally in the region.

More than half of all foreign military aid that Mr Biden requested for the fiscal year of 2022 was earmarked for Israel, the Council of Foreign Relations said.

Under a 2016 memorandum, Washington is committed to providing nearly $4 billion to Israel each year, including $500 million for missile defence.

Following the Israel-Hamas conflict last year, the US provided an extra $1 billion in missile defence funding.

Mr Amr assumed the role of Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, an unprecedented new office within US government, this month after serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs and on former secretary of state John Kerry’s team working on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 3:31 PM