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U.S. downgrades its diplomatic mission to Palestinians

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it is downgrading its diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which was in charge of relations with the Palestinians, will cease to exist and become the "Palestinian Affairs Unit" in the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Why it matters: This is a dramatic decision. Pompeo described the move as technical and said it was prompted by operational efficiency, but it has big political consequences and symbolism. The decision wipes out another symbol of Palestinian sovereignty that was recognized by both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last 25 years. The consulate is also considered a symbolic U.S. recognition of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will now be in charge of relations with the Palestinians and — for the first time since 1967 — will be formally in charge of contacts with Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The decision also annuls the restriction on diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Israel to engage in diplomatic work in the West Bank.  

  • It is unclear how Friedman will run relations with the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership cut ties with the White House over Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and has refused to engage with Friedman from the start of his appointment, claiming he was a "settler." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also notably called Friedman a "son of a dog."

A State Department official said the consulate general's work will continue uninterrupted through the new Palestinian Affairs Unit. The official added that Consul General Karen Sasahara is not resigning, but, following the merger, her role will be eliminated and she plans to return to Washington.

More from Pompeo's statement:

  • This decision "does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip. … The United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties."
  • "We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with the Palestinian people and, we hope in the future, with the Palestinian leadership."

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