WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department announced Thursday it will merge the American General Consulate in Jerusalem, which serves the city's Palestinian population, into the American embassy which moved to Jerusalem in May.
While the move was described by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as an “efficiency” move, it comes with significant symbolic constraints, since U.S. policy towards the Palestinians will now be directed out of the embassy to Israel.
In a statement released Thursday, Pompeo wrote that “This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” However, Palestinians will likely view the decision as another in a string of Trump administration policies meant to harm their diplomatic standing and increase Israel’s control of their population.
The merger will lead to the creation of a new “Palestinian Affairs Unit” inside the embassy. The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is headed by Ambassador David Friedman, previously President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, who is a strong supporter of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a long-time opponent of Palestinian independence.
The move also means that the entire mechanism tracking the expansion of the settlements would be under Friedman's purview.
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Pompeo wrote in his statement that “the United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”
He added that the administration remains committed to achieving a peace deal. Such efforts have been effectively frozen ever since Trump announced the embassy move to Jerusalem in December 2017, as the Palestinian Authority has officially boycotted contact with the White House ever since.
The consulate today serves Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on a wide range of issues, from providing consular services to public and political engagement. It is also in charge of the process of distributing U.S. financial support for economic and cultural projects, although the Trump administration has already cut almost all of the money that Congress allocated for those purposes earlier this year.
In June, it was reported by the Associated Press that Trump was mulling such a move. At the time, the State Department said in reply to the report that the "Consulate General Jerusalem continues to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate from its historic Agron Road location."