WASHINGTON – The United States government confirmed on Sunday that its consulate general in Jerusalem will merge into its embassy to Israel, effectively downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission for Palestinians.
The move, effective Monday, does not indicate a change in its policy regarding this city and other “final status issues,” US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.
Until now, the consulate, which was the main channel of communication between the US government and Palestinian leadership and functioned as a US embassy for Palestinians, reported its activities directly to the Department of State.
With the change, it will have to inform and depend on the country’s embassy in Israel.
“This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations. It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip,” he said.
As President Donald Trump has stated, “the United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders,” he added.
Palladino specified that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Administration remains fully committed to efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and the Palestinians.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) described on Sunday the union of the consulate and the embassy as a “political assault on Palestinian rights and identity.”
On Oct. 18, 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the two missions would merge into one.
Palladino stressed on Sunday that “there will be complete continuity of US diplomatic activity and consular services during and after the merger.”
“We will continue to conduct all of the diplomatic and consular functions previously performed by US Embassy Jerusalem,” the spokesman said.
In addition, it “will also engage in a wide range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem, through a US Embassy Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU), which will operate from our historic Agron Road location in Jerusalem,” Palladino added.
The status of Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and annexed in 1980 against the position of the international community, is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state.
However, Trump recognized the Holy City as the Israeli capital at the end of 2017, a decision that materialized with the transfer of the embassy last May, which was followed by Guatemala.
This step was a break in the international consensus not to establish embassies in Jerusalem until there was a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, a position shared by the European Union.
Peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli authorities have been suspended since 2014, and following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Palestinians have lost faith in the US position in the peace process, cutting most ties with the administration.