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U.S. mission to Palestinians to be folded into U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

U.S. mission to Palestinians to be folded into U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem
Ramin Melamed and his daughter Ayalah, 2 months old, in front of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem after getting her citizenship paperwork done in May. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The United States will fold the operations of the Consulate General in Jerusalem into the new American Embassy in Israel, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said on Thursday, effectively shuttering its diplomatic representation to the Palestinian Authority here.

The move comes weeks after the United States ordered the office in Washington that served as the Palestinians’ de facto embassy there closed.

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In a statement, Pompeo couched the change in administrative language, saying “we plan to achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness by merging U.S. Embassy Jerusalem and U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem into a single diplomatic mission.” Pompeo said that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman would oversee the merger.

The announcement drew no comment from the Israeli government but a furious reaction from the Palestinian Authority.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that closing the U.S. Consulate “has nothing to do with “efficiency” and a lot to do with pleasing an ideological U.S. team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes.”

The Trump administration, he said, is “working together with the Israeli Government to impose Greater Israel rather than the two-state solution on the 1967 border,” in effect accusing the United States of dismantling the diplomatic structure in place since the Oslo Accords of 1993, that aimed at achieving two states.

President Trump has declared Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations a principal foreign policy goal, saying an agreement would be “the ultimate deal” and appointing his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner to manage the talks.

The announcement caps a tumultuous year in U.S. diplomacy regarding Jerusalem, the contested city that Trump recognized as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

In May, the American Embassy was officially relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, provoking heated responses from the Palestinians and sparking a protest on the border between Gaza and Israel in which 60 Palestinians died.

The Palestinian Authority has refused all contact with the Trump administration since then.

The action Thursday will result in the consular office that long served as a quasi-embassy for Palestinian affairs being managed out of a new “Palestinian Affairs Unit” in the U.S. Embassy in Jeruslaem.

Pompeo said that the move does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

But it follows the U.S. in August slashing its humanitarian aid budget to the Palestinians by more than $200 million and cancelling its contribution to a United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, a sum that came to about $350 million per year.

Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Thursday’s decision to merge the consulate with the embassy “downgrades diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. It is not consistent with the goal of achieving a two-state solution, and that is how it will be understood by both sides.”

“It is very unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will engage the U.S. government through the Embassy to Israel,” he added.

Danny Ayalon, who served as the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 2002-06, rejoiced in the decision, saying, “Israeli interests are well served,” and “the Palestinians will come to understand there’s a price for their intransigence and double talk and support of terror, be it financial or through incitement.”

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Calling the Palestinians “spoiled children,” Ayalon, formerly a right-wing member of the Israeli parliament, said demoting the consulate was “a punishment to the Palestinians,” explaining, “they refuse to speak to Trump’s people and call Ambassador Friedman ‘a son of a dog.’ The Palestinians keep spitting at the Americans and want us to say it’s just rain.”

Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, countered, “What is the point of dismantling a direct diplomatic channel to the PA? It has both substantive and symbolic value.”

“The U.S. has absolutely no coherent policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” Pinkas said. This decision, while meaningless to Israel, will further convince the Palestinians that the U.S. will not act as an intermediary.”

Only Guatemala has followed the U.S. lead to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Other Western governments condition such a move on a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a decision on the permanent status of Jerusalem. The Palestinian government claims East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital at its founding in 1948, and has located its parliament, Supreme Court and other institutions of state in West Jerusalem.

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