Nobody wants to talk to US after Palestinian mission downgrade, official says

Washington is to merge its Jerusalem consulate with its embassy to Israel on Monday

epa07103585 A general view of the US Consulate general in Jerusalem, Israel, 19 October 2018. Media reports state that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 18 October that the US Consulate will move to the new Embassy and will run under the jurisdiction of US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.  EPA/ABIR SULTAN
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The United States will be more isolated in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank after it downgrades its mission to the Palestinians and merges it with its embassy to Israel, according to an official in Ramallah, who claimed "nobody" wants dialogue with Washington now.

In October, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the merger in order to improve “efficiency and effectiveness” and said the decision did not represent a change in policy towards the Palestinians. That merger is expected to take place on Monday.

But officials in Ramallah say the merger is a continuation of a line of policy decisions that favour Israel over them, moves such as the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem that caused them to cut public contact with their counterparts in Washington in December 2017.

“It’s a message that we are part of greater Israel,” said a Palestinian official who was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

They say the decision to merge the consulate with an embassy under the watch of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will damage relations not only with the Palestinians but others too.

“Relations will be really affected. No one wants to talk to them but now nobody wants to talk to them,” the official said.

“I’m talking civil society, people from other countries, people who were engaging with them. Not only Arab states, European states. Everyone.”

The official said that representatives to the Palestinians would not engage with the US if it worked out of an embassy to Israel.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

There is speculation that the consul general's residence in Jerusalem would eventually become the home for Mr Friedman as part of the embassy's move to the disputed city, which occurred last May.

Mr Friedman is viewed by Palestinians as a fervent supporter of Israel, having once served as the head of an American organisation that funded projects in the hardline settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank.

He was also instrumental in Mr Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, a contested city where Palestinians seek its eastern sector as its capital of any future sovereign state. Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and has maintained a military occupation there, expanding a network of settlements deemed illegal under international law.

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 1857.

Mr 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 a bid to force Palestinian leaders to negotiate.

Palestinian leaders call it an attempt to blackmail them into accepting a plan aimed at wiping out their cause.