The United States says it is placing its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians under the authority of its embassy to Israel.
The State Department said Thursday that merging the Jerusalem Consulate with the newly opened Jerusalem Embassy will achieve "significant efficiencies". But the move also has symbolic significance, by in effect downgrading the standing of the consulate.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”
For years, the consulate has served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians, reporting straight to the State Department in Washington. Placing it under the authority of the embassy could be seen as suggesting American recognition of Israeli control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside US Embassy Jerusalem,” Mr Pompeo said.
But the Palestinians decried the move as another attempt to support Israel’s hard-right government in its bid for a “greater Israel” that includes West Bank land.
“The US decision to end the existence of the US Consulate...has nothing todo with ‘efficiency’ and a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
“The Trump Administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
The Palestinians cut ties with the US after President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital last year and moved the American embassy to Jerusalem. The relocation took place in the face of widespread protest across the Arab world.
The American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, will effectively preside over the consulate to the Palestinians. He is known for his far-right views, funding of projects in the illegal hardline West Bank settlement Beit El and his role in the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state, alongside the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has constructed a web of outposts deemed illegal under international law that now host around 400,000 settlers and threaten the contiguity of any future sovereign Palestinian nation.