The US Consulate on Agron Street.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Trump Administration has signaled it may be veering away from a two-state resolution to the Israeli conflict by its decision to close the “pseudo Palestinian embassy,” former United States ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post.
Shapiro spoke after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that for efficiency reasons, the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, which conducts relations with the Palestinian Authority, would be merged with the US Embassy that deals with the Israeli government.
Local US dialogue with the PA, he said, would now be handled by the Palestinian Affairs Unit that would be under the auspices of the embassy.
Shapiro called the move a “pretty significant shift in policy.”
The US has had “a consulate in Jerusalem going back to the mid-19th century” to service American travels. After the 1993 Oslo Accords it also became the office that handled the diplomacy relations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Shapiro said.
“The fact that there were two separate missions strongly connoted that the US viewed Israel and the Palestinian Authority as two separate entities. US diplomats posted to the consulate were not accredited to the State of Israel, since the consulate talked to the Palestinians and embassy spoke to the Israelis.”
Most of the time the consul general was chief of mission, Shapiro explained. As a result, the consul general and the ambassador each had their own independent streams of communication with the US administration in Washington.
The consulate had a certain status a “pseudo embassy,” Shapiro said. If the consulate is placed under the authority of the embassy and a Palestinian Affairs Unit is created, it would have to be accredited to the State of Israel, he explained.
That step “downgrades the Palestinian aspiration for sovereignty” because it “connotes that the Palestinians are part of or under the authority of the State of Israel,” Shapiro said.
“I think it is very clear that this may signal that Palestinian statehood” is not part of the Trump peace plan. It could even point toward a one-state outcome, he said.
This kind of a downgrade moves the situation closer to the moment of truth with regard to the US support for a one-state or two-state solution, Shapiro said.
On Thursday, Pompeo said the merger “does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip. As the president proclaimed in December of last year, the United States continues to take no position on final-status issues, including boundaries or borders. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”
MK Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, told the Post he also believed that the merger was a “sea-change.”
After the announcement, Oren immediately tweeted, “A great day for Israel, Jerusalem, and the United States. Pompeo’s announcement closing the US consulate in Jerusalem and transferring its responsibilities to the embassy ends the last vestige of American support for the city’s division. Israel is deeply grateful.”
The merger follows the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May and the September decision to shut the office of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington.
The US left-wing Jewish NGO J-Street said, “Step by step, the Trump administration has worked to destroy the US relationship with the Palestinians and to close off every point of contact with the Palestinian leadership.”
“The Trump administration is doing everything it can think of to promote the agenda of the Israeli Right – permanent occupation and a one-state nightmare,” it said.
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