Israelis have been so focused on counting and celebrating the moves or likely moves of embassies to Jerusalem that they might have missed another significant development.
On Monday, the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, which for decades served as a de facto American embassy to the Palestinians, merged with the US Embassy and came under the authority of Ambassador David Friedman. As part of the merger, the position of US consul-general, who served as the ambassador to the Palestinians, was eliminated.
This, of course, follows the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital last May and the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington in September.
As Jerusalem Post reporters Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff noted, until now the two entities – the embassy and the consulate general, located in a beautiful building on Jerusalem’s Agron Street – functioned as two distinct units, each reporting separately to the State Department and, even more curiously, each holding its own July 4 celebrations.
The embassy, until last year, was in Tel Aviv and was responsible for Israel within the 1967 Green Line, whereas the consulate general, located in west Jerusalem, dealt with the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
This created a particularly strange situation, given that under any future peace deal, it is clear that west Jerusalem will remain under Israeli control. While there is a potential question mark over the future of parts of east Jerusalem under US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-revealed “Deal of the Century,” there is no reason that the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza should have, in effect, their own ambassador – in the western part of the Israeli capital.
The intention to merge the consulate with the embassy was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, who said the aim was “to achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness. It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.”
Pompeo said the US would continue its “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.
Pompeo at the time stressed that “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.”
As the Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh noted, Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the merger, calling it a sign of the US administration’s “bias” in favor of Israel and “hostility” toward the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority has been boycotting the US administration since December 2017, when Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and has been further angered by moves such as cutting American aid to UNRWA, the UN body established some 70 years ago to deal uniquely with Palestinian refugees throughout the generations.
Palestinian officials this week reiterated their rejection of the still unknown peace deal. Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch reported on Sunday that, in an opinion piece in the official PA daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Omar Hilmi al-Ghoul, who advised former prime minister Salam Fayyad, called US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt “a mongoloid.”
“Anyone who follows the prattle of Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s envoy in the matter of the ‘Deal of the Century,’ sees that his condition is very similar to Down’s syndrome,” wrote Ghoul. He continued in the same disgusting vein, saying: “Anyone who examines the general genes of the components of the Trump administration sees that it is a politically crippled creature.”
Israelis, who have embraced the Shalva Band comprising special needs musicians and singers, rejected this analogy as shameful. US Ambassador Friedman responded, “I am disgusted – not for Jason (he’s got broad shoulders) – but by this utter disregard for the value of every human life.”
Ending the special status of the US Consulate nonetheless sends out a welcome message, reinforcing Israeli sovereignty and the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and ending anomalies that have done nothing to bring the Palestinians closer to peace negotiations, let alone a genuine peace.