The U.S. officially closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which had served as the de facto diplomatic mission for Palestinians.
While the State Department framed the move as a "merger" with its embassy in the city, critics say it's another setback for peace that puts Israeli interests over Palestinian rights
As Haaretz reported,
The consulate had primarily served the capital's Palestinians and was the main channel of communication over the years between the U.S. administration and the Palestinian leadership. The move means that the consulate will stop acting as an independent diplomatic mission and the Palestinians will be forced to work with an entity that is subordinate to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Friedman's appointment to that post, it should be noted, was strongly condemned at the time given his far-right positions. Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson, for example, said that his appointment was "a distressing signal that the [Trump] administration will give the Israeli government a free hand to deepen its fundamentally undemocratic and abusive control over Palestinian land, resources, and rights."
The move, argued State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino in a statement on Sunday, is "to increase the efficiency and effectiveness."
"U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem will merge into U.S. Embassy Jerusalem to form a single diplomatic mission," he stated, and added, "We will continue to conduct all of the diplomatic and consular functions previously performed by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem."
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann took issue with the government's use of the term "merge" to describe the shift—a word choice repeated in corporate media—and argued that the consulate "will be subsumed into the Embassy to Israel. This is no mere technicality, and precisely reflects current U.S. policies: all things Palestinian are subservient to Israeli interests."
No, the Consulate (the de facto US mission to Palestine) will NOT "merge" with the Embassy. It will be subsumed into the Embassy to Israel.— Daniel Seidemann (@DanielSeidemann) March 4, 2019
This is no mere technicality, and precisely reflects current US policies: all things Palestinian are subservient to Israeli interests. https://t.co/Ol58NPWCYU
The development also drew outrage from the PLO, with spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi saying, "Merging the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem with the U.S. Embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate's historic status and function, dating back nearly two hundred years."
"The U.S. administration is subsuming Palestine under Israel and aligning itself with the racist Israeli right, which negates Palestinian identity, history, narrative, and national rights," he said.
Malaysia chimed in as well. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the shift "the latest unfortunate step taken by the U.S. against Palestine and its people."
"Though the U.S. justifies the merger as a means of bureaucratic efficiency, Malaysia views that it is nothing more than a smokescreen trying to camouflage what is essentially an opening of American embassy in Jerusalem; a move that will sound the death knell of the two-state solution that enjoys the support of the vast majority of the international community."
Former U.S. ambassadors expressed criticism as well:
A mistake to close the American Consulate General Jerusalem on Monday. All U.S. Presidents until Trump understood its importance as our bridge to the Palestinian people. I was proud to serve there in the 1980s. @USCGJerusalem https://t.co/WPtc7tycg9— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) March 2, 2019
Many of our best Foreign Service officers served in Jerusalem over the years, and they did important work there seeking to promote peace. Closing the Consulate is a setback for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a major error by this Administration. https://t.co/067TDSL91e— Jake Walles (@jakewalles) March 2, 2019
"At this point we are saying to the Palestinians and the world—we do not see the Palestinians as a people to engage directly," added Lara Friedman, a former U.S. foreign service officer in Jerusalem and president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. "They are now a minority and a subset to our relationship with Israel."