US to merge Palestinian mission with embassy in Israel on Monday

The United States lowered the flag on Monday at the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to Palestinians, merging the mission with the new US Embassy to Israel in the contested city.
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the decision was driven by operational efficiency and assured that there would be "complete continuity of US diplomatic activity and consular services".
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the decision was driven by operational efficiency and assured that there would be "complete continuity of US diplomatic activity and consular services".PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States consulate in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new US Embassy to Israel on Monday (March 4), the State Department said, a merger that has angered Palestinian leadership.

The decision to create a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem was announced last October by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and had been widely expected for early March.

The State Department announcement on Sunday gave the official date for the move.

The planned merger has raised Palestinians' fears that the Trump administration is downgrading the handling of their concerns in the disputed city of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

US President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world and stoked international criticism by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017 and moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv last May.

Palestinian leaders suspended diplomatic contacts with the US administration after the embassy move and have since boycotted US efforts to craft a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, accusing Washington of pro-Israel bias.

The US Consulate General in Jerusalem is the top mission for Palestinians, who with broad international backing seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the decision was driven by operational efficiency and assured that there would be "complete continuity of US diplomatic activity and consular services".

"It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip," he said in a statement.

"The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties."

When Mr Pompeo announced the merger plan last autumn, senior Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat denounced the decision to eliminate the consulate as the latest evidence the Trump administration was working with Israel to impose a "Greater Israel" rather than a two-state solution.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel regards the entire city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed, as its "eternal and indivisible capital", but that is not recognised internationally.