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US says merging Jerusalem consulate into embassy not a policy shift

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move "the final nail in the coffin" for the US role in peacemaking

AP | PTI  |  Jerusalem 

US Consulate Jerusalem
US Consulate Jerusalem | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main to the Palestinians by folding it into the to

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 and to David Friedman, a longtime supporter and settler 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 said in a statement.

"It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Strip." In a farewell video addressed to the consulate's Palestinian partners, Karen Sasahara, who is leaving her post as the unofficial U.S. to the Palestinians and will not be replaced, maintains that new Palestinian unit at the embassy will carry the mission of the consulate, "in support of the strengthening of American-Palestinian ties, to boost economic opportunities for the Palestinians and facilitate cultural and educational exchanges."

When first announced by U.S. in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that the U.S. was recognizing Israeli control over east and the West Bank, territories that Palestinians seek for a future state.

Palestinian official called the move "the final nail in the coffin" for the U.S. role in peacemaking.

The downgrade is just the latest in a string of divisive decisions by the administration that have backed and alienated the Palestinians, who say they have lost faith in the U.S. administration's role as a in peace process.

Last year the U.S. recognized as Israel's capital and relocated its embassy there, upending U.S. 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 U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians classified as refugees. Last fall, it shut down the Palestinian in

The administration has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with as the reason for such punitive measures, although the U.S. has yet to present its much-anticipated but still mysterious "Deal of the Century" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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

First Published: Mon, March 04 2019. 19:55 IST