U.S. to reopen Jerusalem consulate to engage with Palestinians

Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would be reopening the Consulate General in Jerusalem that handled relations with the Palestinians but was shut down by the Trump administration.The state of play: Blinken made the announcement after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and hours after he had raised the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for freeWhy it matters: The consulate oversaw U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority for more than two decades before being merged into the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Reopening the consulate will be a major step toward normalizing U.S.-Palestinian ties, but it also requires Israeli approval.White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the move was the "natural next step toward restoring ties with the Palestinians," while Blinken said the consulate would also be used to re-engage with civil society and the business sector. He didn't offer a timeline for the reopening.Behind the scenes: Netanyahu raised reservations with Blinken during their meeting and said he'd prefer it if the consulate were to remain as part of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, rather than an independent diplomatic mission, Israeli officials say. The State Department didn’t immediately offer comment.Hady Amr, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, raised the consulate issue last week with officials in Netanyahu's office and the Foreign Ministry while serving as Blinken's envoy during the Gaza crisis. The Israeli officials say Amr received a noncommittal response. The sense of urgency grew in Washington during the crisis, with officials at the State Department feeling at times that they were "flying blind" without a consulate to engage with the Palestinian side, a source familiar with the issue said.In his comments on Tuesday, Blinken stressed that reopening the consulate would make it easier to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Gaza and reconstruction efforts with the UN and the Palestinian Authority. Blinken added the Biden administration would be asking Congress to approve an additional $75 million dollars in assistance for the reconstruction of Gaza in 2021 and another $30 million dollars for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees.The backstory: The consulate dates back to 1844 and served for 25 years as the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians before being shut down by the Trump administration and merged into the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in 2019.More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

Israeli officials 'regret' bombing Gaza AP bureau as post-ceasefire clean up begins

Israeli officials have privately expressed “regret” for blowing up a tower in the Gaza Strip that contained foreign media offices, it emerged on Sunday, as Palestinians began cleaning up the enclave’s rubble-strewn streets. In Gaza City, groups of young men and women used brooms to sweep dust and debris from the main roads, as outdoor vigils were held for the 248 victims of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire. US officials estimate that the cost of repairing Gaza’s damaged hospitals, school and infrastructure will amount to several billion dollars, while the United Nations says hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed. It came as the New York Times reported that some Israeli military officials now “regret” a decision to strike the media tower in Gaza City, which contained the offices of Associated Press, a major US news agency, and the broadcaster Al-Jazeera. Israel maintains that the airstrike was justified as it claims that Hamas assets were in the building. The Israeli army gave reporters an hour to evacuate the tower, and no one was killed in the attack. But according to the New York Times, some Israeli military officials had argued against the air strike and now consider it a “mistake.” One official also felt that the damage caused by the strike to Israel’s international reputation outweighed the benefits of destroying Hamas equipment, the report added, citing three sources. Hamas denies that its assets were in the media tower and has accused Israel of committing “war crimes” by attacking civilian buildings, though Israel rejects this. In an interview with the Telegraph on Sunday, a senior Hamas official blamed Israel for the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza and warned that the Jewish state was “playing with fire.”