'A great day,' says ex-Israeli envoy to the UN

In blow to Palestinians, US places Jerusalem consulate under embassy

Pompeo insists move doesn’t signal a change in administration’s position on city’s status; Ramallah accuses White House of adopting ‘Israeli narrative’

The US consulate on Agron Street in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)
The US consulate on Agron Street in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)

The State Department announced Thursday that it would bring its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians under the auspices of the US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, marking an implicit downgrading of the facility’s status and a fresh blow to its already strained ties with the Palestinians.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move was meant to “achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness” following the opening of the embassy in May. He insisted the merger of the two missions did not signal a change in US policy on the status of Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza Strip.

“The United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”

He added that US President Donald Trump was commitment to a “lasting and comprehensive peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. “We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with the Palestinian people and, we hope in the future, with the Palestinian leadership,” he said.

Pompeo said US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman would be in charge of the tie-up and that the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would remain, as before, at the consulate general building on Agron Street in the western part of Jerusalem.

“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,” he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the White House on October 18, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The announcement was met with immediate anger from the Palestinians, who accused the White House of working to bring the entire West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.

“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,” top peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

“The US administration has fully endorsed the Israeli narrative, including on Jerusalem, Refugees and Settlements.”

The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority has boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and announced it would move its embassy to the city. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state.

Erekat also accused the Trump administration of abandoning long-held tenets of US foreign policy and “reward[ing] Israeli violations and crimes.” He said the Palestinians “will not be silenced” and vowed to take unspecified “necessary steps” in response.

“The Trump Administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said, reiterating the Palestinian objection to the US role as the main broker of peace talks.

Nabil Shaath, the international affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said it was a “very bad decision” that violated past agreements and continued President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Now, he is cutting the last connection he is said to have with the Palestinian people. He is practically saying Jerusalem is for Israel,” Shaath said. “This decision has nothing to do with peace. It complicates peace and makes it impossible.”

In Israel, Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) celebrated the move as a “great day” for Jerusalem, Israel, and the United States.

“Pompeo’s announcement closing the U.S. 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,” Oren, a former ambassador to the US, wrote on Twitter.

View of the US embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Trump’s announcement, the US became the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The decision to move its embassy was followed by Guatemala and Paraguay, though the latter later announced it would return its diplomatic mission to Tel Aviv, sparking a diplomatic row with Israel.

Leaders from a number of other countries have also expressed potential interest in moving their countries’ embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, including close US ally Australia earlier this week.

Since the fallout over Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, the US made a number of other moves that have been denounced by the Palestinians, including ending its contributions to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees. It also announced the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington over what it said was the Palestinians’ refusal to engage in peace talks with Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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