WASHINGTON - Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr landed in Tel Aviv on Friday as the Biden administration works to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians amid the latest violent flare-up.
Amr is expected to hold an extensive rounds of meetings with representatives from the Israel's Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and probably with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well. Israeli sources believe that Amr's arrival signals a deeper interest from the Biden administration in pushing for a ceasefire, possibly even before the UN Security Council convenes on Sunday.
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One Israeli source said that this would "mostly depend on developments on the ground, the progress of the Israeli operation and on Hamas' conduct."
"Amr arrived to Tel Aviv today to reinforce the need to work toward a sustainable calm, recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense. Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity," the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem tweeted. The Biden administration had announced Wednesday that it was sending Amr to Israel "immediately."
A former U.S. official told Haaretz that upgrading Amr to an envoy-level position, similar to Tim Lenderking with Yemen or Jeffrey Feltman with the Horn of Africa, would be a relatively simple fix to Biden’s approach regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been the target of growing ire amongst former officials and policy experts.
“It doesn’t have to be someone super senior, but somebody who’s empowered to deal with this on a regular basis,” the official says, adding Amr is already playing the default role.
“Empower him to have more freedom and give him a higher level of engagement.” Amr has been widely praised for his entrepreneurial approach throughout his career.
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Those familiar with his background say he has consistently demonstrated a unique ability to build relationships with both parties throughout his career, placing a premium on improving lives for civilians and not focusing on flashy initiatives.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration sent Amr to "engage in working toward a lasting peace," adding that the administration has a great deal of trust in the career foreign service officials currently on the ground. "Obviously we'll continue to evaluate what's needed and how we can play a constructive role, but what I can tell you is that our engagement is extensive."
Psaki reiterated that the U.S. objective remains to work toward deescalation. "Many conversations are happening with people with leaders in the region — Palestinian leaders, Israeli leaders, Egyptians, Tunisians, many who can be influential on Hamas," she said, adding that "a lot of conversations we have may happen behind the scenes, because that may be the most appropriate way to deescalate the situation on the ground."
"Sometimes these conversations need to happen privately in order to have an effective outcome," she added.
Psaki noted the administration's belief that Israel has a right to self-defense, adding that "the loss of life, the loss of children's lives. the loss of family members' lives, whether it's Palestinian lives or Israeli lives, is incredibly tragic. It's horrific to watch and that is certainly why our focus is on deescalating what is happening on the ground."
She added that she believes it's important to remind people that Hamas is a terrorist organization. "Hamas does not represent the views, the families, the people who are suffering, all of the Palestinian people who are suffering as a result of this violence, but there's no justification for 1,500 rockets coming from Hamas into Israeli communities."
In a White House statement marking Eid, U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged "the situation in the Holy Land is weighing heavily on Muslims everywhere, including our Muslim communities here in the United States. "
"Palestinians—including in Gaza—and Israelis equally deserve to live in dignity, safety and security. No family should have to fear for their safety within their own home or place of worship," he said.
"We think most about the children in these societies who face trauma from a conflict far beyond their control," Biden continued, adding that his administration will continue to engage Palestinians, Israelis, and other regional partners to work towards a sustainable calm.
"Amr has decades of experience on this issue, and his trip is part of ongoing high-level engagements by senior U.S. officials on these critical issues," State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said.
She added that "while he's there he will reinforce our message that we have stressed in many senior-level engagements with the parties and other stakeholders in the past week, which is achieving a sustainable calm."
Porter declined to name specific officials that Amr will be meeting, though noted that he has the full backing of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his efforts.