U.S. merges Jerusalem embassy and consulate

Trump official tells Post: US will now speak with 'one voice' to both sides.

October 18, 2018 16:54
3 minute read.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Welcomes public to the New embassy in Jerusalem

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Welcomes public to the New embassy in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screenshot)


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WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration will merge the US consulate general in Jerusalem into its Jerusalem embassy, in move widely cast as a "downgrade" in US-Palestinian relations.

It breaks with over two decades of protocol offering the Palestinians a direct line to Washington through a consulate staff that deal directly with the Palestinian Authority and the US Administration.

Many countries who do not recognize Palestine as a state, have an embassy that talks with the Israelis and a consulate that deals directly with the Palestinians.

In announce the move on Thursday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the merger was done for "efficiency and effectiveness.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed his words. “This decision has nothing to do with "efficiency" and a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of US Foreign Policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes.”

“The Trump Administration is making clear that it is working together with the Israeli Government to impose Greater Israel rather than the two-state solution on the 1967 border. The US administration has fully endorsed the Israeli narrative, including on Jerusalem, Refugees and Settlements,” Erekat said.

State Department officials told The Jerusalem Post the move to grant the US ambassador to Israel, currently David Friedman, purview or responsibility over the West Bank and Gaza does not change policy toward the Palestinian territories, nor does it signal a shift in settlement policy.

Friedman visited a settlement– a dramatic first for an envoy to Israel– for the first time in an official capacity just days ago.

Former American diplomats described the consulate as Washington's primary channel to the Palestinian people– and its best gauge of Palestinian politics. In maintaining separate diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and the Israelis, consecutive administrations since the signing of the Oslo Accords hoped to garner trust with Ramallah and underscore US support for a separation of the two peoples.

The consulate will no longer report directly to Washington, and instead will be under the embassy's control. And the move coming just weeks after the Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinians' diplomatic offices in Washington.

A senior administration official told the Post that their decision is intended to ensure the US speaks "with one voice" to both Israelis and Palestinians, after years of offering "mixed messages" to both sides.

The official claimed the move would help streamline the president's upcoming Middle East peace effort and dismissed assertions that it was yet another punishment of the Palestinians, in light of a series of US aid cuts to Palestinian interests.

Pompeo said the embassy would establish a new Palestinian Affairs Unit to serve a similar purpose as the consulate once did, and expressed hope that, "in the future," the administration would resume dialogue with the Palestinian leadership, cut off ever since  President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the US embassy there last year.

"We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside US Embassy Jerusalem," Pompeo said. "That unit will operate from our Agron Road site in Jerusalem."

The decision is in line with the administration's decision to grant Friedman a role in crafting the White House effort to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians. No previous US ambassador to Israel has been involved in diplomacy with the Palestinians.

"This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip," the secretary continued. "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."

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