President Trump is planning to downgrade the US Consulate General in eastern Jerusalem, which serves mainly Arabs, in favor of the main embassy under the rule of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, AP reported Friday.
The US diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, first established in 1844, was designated a Consulate General in 1928 and serves “Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip as an independent mission, with the Consul General serving as chief of mission,” according to the consulate’s website, which stresses that “throughout its history, staff of the Consulate General has included Muslims, Jews, and Christians, demonstrating that people of different faiths and nationalities can work together in peace in this region.”
Naturally, that brotherly love thing did not exist from 1949 to 1967, when Jews were barred from entering Jordan-occupied eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites for Jews.
The move, potentially forcing PA and Gaza Arabs to seek consular services in the US embassy in the western part of the city, the “Jewish part,” could “further dampen Palestinian hopes for an independent state,” according to five unidentified US officials, who suggested that while the change “might be technical and bureaucratic, it could have potentially significant policy implications.” The officials warned downgrading the “Arab” consulate could have “potent symbolic resonance,” implying an American recognition of Israel’s ownership of eastern Jerusalem and the “West Bank.”
The leak to AP comes at a time when Israel and the PA have been anticipating the promised peace plan from President Trump – even though the Arab side has given up its expectations that the current administration has anything meaningful to offer them on their terms. On Thursday, Ahmad Majdalani, member of the PLO Executive Committee, declared that “the United States support for Israel, particularly its settlement activities, has encourage Israel to proceed with settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories in clear violation of international law.”
The Jerusalem consulate does not report to the US embassy in Israel, but rather communicated directly with the State Department in Washington, which the AP notes is “giving the Palestinians an unfiltered channel to engage with the US government.” As former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro put it: “They don’t want to deal with the US embassy to Israel as their channel, they want their voice to be heard directly in Washington.”
Ambassador Friedman wants to put an end to this, and the president might embrace his view. The State Department has issued a statement insisting “Consulate General Jerusalem continues to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate from its historic Agron Road location (in eastern Jerusalem),” but, according to the AP, Trump could issue new “letters of instruction,” which delegate the authority over chiefs of mission to Friedman.