AFP Washington, DC, USA
Mar 04, 2019, 11.01 AM
The United States on Monday downgraded its mission to the Palestinians by merging its Jerusalem consulate with the embassy to Israel, a US government statement said.
The US downgrade of its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians takes effect on Monday as it merges its Jerusalem consulate with the embassy to Israel, the State Department said.
"On March 4, 2019, US consulate general Jerusalem will merge into US embassy Jerusalem to form a single diplomatic mission," it said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said when announcing the merger last October that it was intended to improve "efficiency and effectiveness" and did not constitute a change in policy.
But Palestinian leaders have seen the decision as another move against them by US President Donald Trump's administration, which they froze contact with after his 2017 decision recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The Jerusalem consulate general, which has acted independently as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians since the Oslo accords of the 1990s, will be replaced by a new Palestinian affairs unit within the embassy.
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman has been a supporter of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Palestinians view him as blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
The State Department official could not confirm reports that the consul general's residence in Jerusalem would eventually become the home for the US ambassador as part of the embassy's move to the disputed city, which occurred last May.
Located near Jerusalem's Old City, it has been the home of the consul general since 1912, while the US permanent diplomatic presence in the city was established in 1857.
Trump, who is expected to release his long-awaited peace plan in the coming months, has also cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in a bid to force Palestinian leaders to negotiate.
Palestinian leaders call it an attempt to blackmail them into accepting a plan aimed at wiping out their cause.
Trump's decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem broke with decades of international consensus that the status of the city must first be decided upon through negotiations by Israel and the Palestinians.
The Jerusalem consulate general will be replaced by a new Palestinian affairs unit within the embassy.