The United States officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem on Monday, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the US Embassy to Israel.
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 Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.
The announcement from the State Department came early Monday in Jerusalem, the merger effective that day.
“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.”
“As the President has stated, 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,” the statement said, adding that “the Administration remains fully committed to efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and the Palestinians.”
Press Releases: Merger of U.S. Embassy Jerusalem and U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem https://t.co/LaoXv0nv2g
— State Dept. News (@US_Secy_State) March 4, 2019
When first announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that Washington was recognizing Israeli control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories the Palestinians seek for a future state.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move “the final nail in the coffin” for the US role in peacemaking.
The downgrade is the latest in a string of divisive decisions by the Trump administration that have backed Israel and 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 administration.
The administration also has 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.