WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump may transfer authority over the US consulate in Jerusalem to his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a move that would further rile Palestinian leadership after his decision to move the US embassy in Israel there from Tel Aviv, the Associated Press reported on Friday.According to the report, which cites five sources, Friedman has requested direct control over the consulate, which handles relations with the Palestinian Authority and remains autonomous from the embassy in order to avoid de facto recognition of east Jerusalem as an Israeli annex. The president's move would send a message to the Palestinians that he believes the entirety of the city should be treated as sovereign Israeli territory – a move the Trump administration was careful to avoid in its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital last year."Moving our embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal; rather it is a necessary condition for it," the State Department said in a statement last month, ahead of the Jerusalem embassy opening. "We are not taking a position on final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, nor on the resolution of contested borders."
US officials are claiming the transfer of authority would be practical, given the confusing status of operations currently in place: the new US embassy in Jerusalem is roughly a mile away from the existing consulate, which up until the embassy move had also handled services for Americans visiting and living in the ancient city.But transferring authority over the consulate, which has for decades served as an unofficial embassy to the Palestinians, would also be part of a symbolic pattern. The Trump administration has dropped established calls for a two-state solution to the storied conflict, as well as references to an "occupation" of east Jerusalem or the West Bank.In press interviews, Friedman has questioned the very idea of a two-state solution. And before taking office, in his capacity as a private citizen, he was an active supporter of the settler movement.While the AP report notes that Trump has yet to make a final decision, the officials quoted predict that Friedman will ultimately get his way, and that authority over the consulate will be transferred to the Israel embassy. The Jerusalem Post has not independently verified this report.
The U.S. officially opens its embassy in Jerusalem as dozens killed in Gaza protests, May 14, 2018 (Reuters)