Senior U.S. Official Heading to Israel, West Bank Ahead of Biden Visit

Barbara Leaf's visit will come days after the U.S. redesignates its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, making it report directly to Washington

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
Barbara A. Leaf appears before a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for her nomination hearing to be an Assistant Secretary of State in Washington, in 2021.
Barbara A. Leaf appears before a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for her nomination hearing to be an Assistant Secretary of State in Washington, in 2021.Credit: Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON – Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf will travel to Israel and the West Bank this weekend for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Leaf, the State Department’s most senior diplomat for the Middle East, will visit weeks ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's first anticipated trip to the region since he assumed office. She will be accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, who arrived earlier this week, and NSC Director for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Cynthia Cook.

Leaf will "consult with Israeli and Palestinian partners on a range of priorities, including deepening bilateral U.S. cooperation with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli-Palestinian relations and U.S. support for a two-state solution, deterring Iran’s aggressive regional activities, and support for Israel’s integration into the broader Middle East region," according to a State Department statement.

Her visit comes as the Biden administration seeks to reassure the Palestinian Authority that the U.S. is committed to repairing relations with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. The visit will come days after the U.S. redesignates its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, making it report directly to Washington "on substantive matters" while signaling an upgrade in ties.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously updated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the planned move – a missive from the U.S. administration to boost ties with the Palestinian Authority and provide a tangible delivery ahead of Biden's anticipated visit to the region.

Senior Palestinian officials, however, said that this attests to the Biden administration’s weakness, not its strength. While the U.S. believes the moves would grant the PA further agency, Palestinian officials have indicated these moves are not sufficient alternatives to its promise last year of reopening a consulate in East Jerusalem, which the U.S. still has yet to do.

Israel has said it would not consent to this and proposed that a consulate be opened in Ramallah instead. The U.S., meanwhile, has maintained it still intends on reopening the consulate, though Israel has drawn an explicit line in the sand on the matter. It has become a domestic political football for Biden — one that he will likely not seek to engage with ahead of the critical 2022 midterm elections.

Leaf was finally confirmed in May, nearly 13 months after the Biden administration first submitted her nomination to the Senate after successfully overcoming Republican opposition to her appointment. She has previously held numerous diplomatic appointments and senior-level State Department positions, including serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Arabian Peninsula and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq.

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