US closes Jerusalem consulate, demoting Palestinian mission

The US embassy officially opened in Jerusalem last May on the same day Palestinians commemorate 70 years since the Nakba

The US embassy officially opened in Jerusalem last May on the same day Palestinians commemorate 70 years since the Nakba

In his statement, State Department Deputy spokesman Robert Palladino argued that the long-planned merger is not intended as a political signal, but is a mere restructuring driven by Washington's efforts "to increase the efficiency and effectiveness" of "diplomatic engagements and operations".

The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new U.S. Embassy to Israel on Monday, the State Department said, a planned merger that has angered Palestinian leadership.

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 recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinians were outraged when the USA moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, calling it a recognition of the city as the capital of a Jewish state.

The symbolic shift hands authority over USA diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move in October.

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The decision was earlier criticised by Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat, who noted that the move has "nothing to do with efficiency". The Palestinians in turn cut off most ties with the administration.

The status of Jerusalem - home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians - is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The administration also has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including assistance to hospitals and peace-building programs. "It makes no sense to have two diplomatic missions in the same city", he said.

The Trump administration has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with Israel as the reason for such punitive measures, although the US has yet to present its much-anticipated but still mysterious "Deal of the Century" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which runs the Palestinian National Authority, has been up in arms over the merger, with PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat saying in a statement on Sunday that the United States decision "has nothing to do with efficiency, but a lot with the desire to please the ideologized American team, which is primed to dismantle the foundations of the worldwide system and the U.S. foreign policy in order to reward Israel for its violations and crimes".

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