Secretary of state Antony Blinken also announces aid to help rebuild Gaza as he begins Middle East trip

Blinken: US will reopen Jerusalem consulate and provide aid to help rebuild Gaza – video

The US will reopen a mission in Jerusalem to manage diplomatic relations with Palestinians, which had been downgraded by the Trump administration, the US secretary of state has said.

On a trip to the Middle East designed to shore up last week’s ceasefirebetween Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, Antony Blinken also announced the Biden administration would ask Congress for $75m (£53m) in aid for Palestinians, including $5.5m in immediate aid for rebuilding Gaza. He had earlier pledged at a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that the US would not allow Hamas to benefit from those funds.

The plans for a new envoy and details of a large aid package, which also included 1.5m doses of Covid vaccines, were announced after a meeting with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity,” said Blinken, who was on his first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state.

Underlining the US commitment to a two-state solution, he also criticised settlement activity in rare public remarks for senior members of this administration. Under Donald Trump there had been barely any criticism of Jewish settlers.

Blinken did not give a date for reopening the consulate general in Jerusalem, which historically operated independently from the US mission to Israel.

“We’re just beginning the process. I can’t give you a timeline on how long that will take,” Blinken told reporters. “But I can tell you that it’s, I think, important to have that platform to be able to more effectively engage [with] not just the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinians from different walks of life, the NGO community, the business community, and others.”

After Trump shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv the consulate general was downgraded to a Palestinian affairs unit inside the embassy to Israel. Palestinians were furious and called for a boycott of the unit.

The move was part of a wider fraying of ties under Trump, who cut off aid to the authority and unveiled a peace plan that envisaged Israel holding on to most settlements and which had no support from Palestinians.

Blinken’s meeting with Abbas is part of a clear plan to reverse that, although Abbas has no influence in Gaza, where Hamas has been in power since 2007, and his legitimacy even in the West Bank appears to be ebbing.

Last month he called off what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, over fears that his Fatah party would be roundly defeated. A crowd of worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque in the heart of Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in Islam, chanted on Friday in support of Hamas, the Associated Press reported.

Blinken: US supports Israel’s right to defence against Hamas – video

Blinken will not meet Hamas, which the US and Israel consider a terrorist organisation. After his visit he will travel to Egypt, which brokered the ceasefire, and Jordan.

At his first meeting, with Netanyahu, after arriving early on Tuesday, Blinken had underlined US commitments to Israel’s security.

He described it as a deep and personal concern for the US president, Joe Biden, who has come under fire from sections of the Democratic party for his handling of the war, the first conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2014. “[Biden] has been one of Israel’s steadfast supporters for the last 50 years, having worked closely with every prime minister starting with Golda Meir,” Blinken said.

Blinken said rebuilding Gaza, where infrastructure including power and water supplies and the only Covid testing centre were destroyed in airstrikes, was critical to preventing more fighting.

On the day he arrived in Jerusalem, Israel allowed food and fuel into the narrow coastal strip for the first time since fighting ended.

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