US to merge Jerusalem consulate with embassy on Monday in blow to Palestinians

Ramallah sees move as further strain on relationship with Washington; Palestinian affairs unit will be established within the new compound

View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United States is expected to move ahead with the downgrade of its mission to the Palestinians on Monday by merging its Jerusalem consulate with the embassy in Israel, a US official said Saturday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said when announcing the merger in October that it was intended to improve “efficiency and effectiveness” and did not constitute a change in policy.

But Palestinian leaders have seen the decision as another move against them by the Trump administration, which they froze contact with after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

A date for the merger of the consulate into the embassy had not been announced, but a State Department official told AFP on condition of anonymity that it “is expected to take place on March 4.”

The Jerusalem consulate general, which has acted independently as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, will be replaced by a new Palestinian affairs unit within the embassy.

The closure of the consulate general means that Palestinian affairs will come under the direction of US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has been a supporter of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Some Palestinians view Friedman as biased in favor of Israel.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the Jewish federation’s annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, on October 24, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The State Department official could not confirm reports that the consul general’s residence in Jerusalem would eventually become the home for the US ambassador as part of the embassy’s move to the city, which began last May.

Located near Jerusalem’s Old City, it has been the home of the consul general since 1912, while the US permanent diplomatic presence in the city was established in 1844.

Trump, who is expected to release his long-awaited peace plan in the coming months, has also cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in what the Palestinians have said is a bid to pressure them to negotiate.

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