US secretary of state promises to reopen country’s consulate in Jerusalem

Antony Blinken pledges to provide 1.5m Covid-19 immunisations for Palestinians

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has pledged to reopen the country's consulate in Jerusalem – the diplomatic mission that engages with the Palestinians. The building was shut by the administration of Donald Trump and its workload was absorbed by the new US embassy, which opened in Jerusalem in May 2018.

The decision, announced by Mr Blinken on Tuesday during talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, is seen as a significant reversal of policy as Washington moves to rebuild its ties with the Palestinians.

He also said the Biden administration will ask Congress for $75 million (€61 million) in additional aid to the Palestinians, which will include $5.5 million for immediate relief in Gaza and $32 million for Unrwa, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Mr Blinken also pledged that Washington will work with the international community to provide 1.5 million coronavirus immunisations for the Palestinians. In sharp contrast to the rollout in Israel, only 11 percent of West Bank Palestinians and 2 per cent of Gazans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Mr Abbas thanked the US secretary of state for his support. "We hope that the future is full of diplomatic activities led by the United States and the Quartet, so as to reach a just, comprehensive solution based on international law."

No Hamas benefit

Earlier, during talks in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mr Blinken said that at the same time as providing relief for Gaza, Washington would ensure that Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, would not benefit.

“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” he said. “And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”

More than 250 people were killed in the 11-day escalation in Gaza earlier this month, the vast majority of them in Gaza.

To coincide with Mr Blinken's arrival, Israel on Tuesday extended the humanitarian aid transferred to the Gaza Strip and again allowed fishing off the Gaza coast that it had prohibited during the conflict. Fuel, medicine and food earmarked for Gaza's private sector entered the territory for the first time since the hostilities began on May 10th.

Mr Netanyahu warned that if Hamas broke the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, “our response will be very powerful.”

He thanked Mr Blinken for US president Joe Biden’s pledge to provide funds to replace missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome air defence batteries, which succeeded in intercepting 90 per cent of projectiles that were heading for Israeli population centres.

“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against attack,” Mr Blinken asserted.