Pompeo says Jerusalem consulate will merge with new embassy in Israel

U.S. to merge diplomatic mission serving Palestinians with embassy in Israel

Typically, the head of a consulate, known as a consul general, reports to the ambassador, who has "chief of mission authority" over all USA posts in the country.

The United States will merge the US Consulate General, which serves Palestinians, with its new embassy into a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

The merger will be led by U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a former Trump bankruptcy lawyer who has been a vocal backer of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, which are illegal under worldwide law. This step is viewed as yet another slap in the face of the Palestinian Authority and its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, since the consulate has been serving Arabs from Judea and Samaria and from the eastern part of the city for decades.

Tensions have been running high in the occupied Palestinian territories and the Gaza Strip since last December, when Trump made a decision to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel's "capital" and relocate Washington's embassy from Tel Aviv to the Palestinian city.

The change was quickly condemned by the Palestinians, who view United States policy as sharply turning toward Israel under President Trump. "Symbolically, it was the last toehold for the Palestinians in Jerusalem", he said.

Then last month the U.S. announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's diplomatic mission in Washington.

His son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, have been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal. He had long sought to end the Jerusalem consulate's independent status but had faced resistance from within the State Department.

Merging the two US diplomatic missions could pose further problems for Trump's Middle East advisory team.

Nabil Shaath, the global affairs adviser to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said Trump was "cutting the last connection he is said to have with the Palestinian people".

In a March speech, Abbas even referred to Friedman as a settler and a son of a dog.

The talking points sheet attached to the tweet seems to be outdated: It begins, "Israel and the United States are committed to a two-state solution", but that is no longer the case.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its "eternal and undivided" capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem - occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In a statement, Pompeo said the merger of the consulate into the embassy is meant to "achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness". "It does not signal a change of USA policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip", Pompeo said in a statement. In contrast, the consul general running the Jerusalem consulate historically had his or her own chief of mission authority.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO, condemned the US move.

"The US administration has fully endorsed Israeli narratives on al-Quds, Palestinian refugees and settlements", he stated on Thursday.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Jewish liberal advocacy group J Street, called the decision a "blow to diplomacy".

In September, the Trump administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization's office Washington, DC, in part for its refusal to enter peace negotiations with Israel.

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