Palestinian negotiator calls for boycott of new US embassy unit

After Trump administration effectively downgrades its diplomatic mission to Palestinians, Saeb Erekat urges countries not to engage with Palestinian affairs unit

Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

The Palestinian leadership on Thursday urged the international community to boycott the newly created US embassy unit that will handle relations with Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement calling upon the diplomatic community “not to engage in any kind of formal relationship or collaboration” with the new Palestinian affairs unit, which will take over the responsibilities of the shuttered US consulate in Jerusalem.

The United States officially closed the Jerusalem consulate on Monday in the latest decision from the Trump administration to infuriate the Palestinians, who view the closure as a “downgrade” and “new assault” on the prospect of a US-brokered solution to the conflict.

For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy.

The symbolic shift hands authority over US diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza Strip to US Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman arrives at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

“This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

When first announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, Erekat called the move “the final nail in the coffin” for the US role in peacemaking.

The US administration has made a string of divisive decisions that have alienated the Palestinians, who say they have lost faith in the US administration’s role as a neutral arbiter in peace process.

Last year the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem after recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, winning widespread praise in Israel while upending US policy toward one of the most explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians in turn cut off most ties with the Trump administration.

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

The Trump administration has also slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including assistance to hospitals and peace-building programs. It has cut funding to the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinians classified as refugees, whose definition of ongoing generations of Palestinians as refugees is opposed by Israel and has been criticized by the US. Last fall, it shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

The Trump administration, which has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with Israel as a factor behind some of these measures, has yet to present its much-anticipated proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced last month that the US would unveil the deal after Israeli elections in April. The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan, accusing the US of bias toward Israel.

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