US State Department spokesman Ned Price ducked a question on whether the Biden administration considers east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state on Monday.
Price similarly refused to comment on whether the United States would restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees. He also clarified that no high-level talks had occurred between US officials and the Palestinian Authority since President Joe Biden took office on January 20.
Biden has been cagey about some of his positions vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but offered some clarification last week when it published its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights, in which it affirmed the Trump administration's 2017 declaration that Jerusalem was "Israel's" capital.
It made no mention at the time as to whether or not east Jerusalem was the capital of a future Palestinian state, even though the Biden administration has been clear that it supports a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also separately clarified that the US embassy would remain in Jerusalem.
At the State Department briefing in Washington on Monday, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee attempted to pin Price down on ambitious elements of US policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Do you still believe that a two-state solution would result in Palestinians having a capital in East Jerusalem?" Lee asked.
"These are not yes-no questions, Matt – just to clarify," Price said.
"Yeah, but it’s a yes or no," Lee answered.
"There has been no change on our position in Jerusalem – and, of course, Jerusalem is a final status issue that is to be negotiated by the two parties," Price said.
Lee pressed on: "But the previous administration declared – said that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital."
Price responded, "there’s been no change on our position in Jerusalem."
He similarly had little to say when quizzed by another reporter about whether or not the Biden administration would restore funding to UNRWA, which former US President Donald Trump eliminated. Under the Obama administration the US had given an annual contribution to the agency of over $350 million.
Price affirmed that the US intended to provide the Palestinians with funding, noting that it had already pledged $15 million for COVID-19
pandemic assistance, but he would not commit to restoring UNRWA funding.
"We are looking at the ways we can provide assistance to Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees," Price said.
He also spoke of the Biden administration's commitment to restore diplomatic ties between the US and the Palestinians that were severed during Trump's four-year term.
"We have been clear that it is a priority of this administration to engage the Palestinian people as well as the Palestinian leadership," Price said.
But he had no explanation as to why high-level conversations had occurred between the Trump administration and the Palestinian Authority.
In contrast, Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has held three conversations with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
But Biden has never spoken with PA President Mahmoud Abbas or PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. Similarly, Blinken has not spoken with PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
Source: This news first appeared on the Jerusalem Post
, along with the cover photo.