An American flag flies on the U.S. Consulate in West Jerusalem, on Sunday. The U.S. Consulate will close Monday and merge with the controversial U.S. Embassy that President Donald Trump moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last May. The U.S. Consulate oversaw key diplomatic issues to Palestinian officials, which the Palestinian see as another blow in their relations with America. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
March 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, the government's de facto representative office to the Palestinian Authority, is set to merge with the new embassy to Israel on Monday.
Since the mid-1990s, the consulate in West Jerusalem dealt directly with the Palestinian leadership and the embassy, which moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, worked closely with Israel.
The diplomatic mission, which was first established in 1844, will be downgraded to a Palestinian Affairs Unit with the change expected to go into effect Monday, The Jerusalem Post reported.
All the Palestinian Authority affairs will become under the supervision of Ambassador David Friedman, a well-known supporter of Israeli West Bank settler movement settlements.
Consul General Karen Sasahara -- the unofficial ambassador to the Palestinians -- won't be replaced and will depart Jerusalem.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move in October as a way to "improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations."
"We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside U.S. Embassy Jerusalem," Pompeo said. "That unit will operate from our Agron Road site in Jerusalem."
Since 1912, the consulate had been housed in three-story mansion with arched windows and bougainvillea-covered walls.
For several decades it has served Palestinian residents, including those with American citizenship.
It also was where the unofficial envoy to the Palestinians lived and hosted Palestinian guests. It will be used to host events and possibly as a residence, NPR reported.
Last May, the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city in which Israel and the Palestinians have claims. A consulate facility was converted into a full-fledged embassy.
Palestinian authorities in response cut off ties with U.S. officials. The United State then closed the Palestinians' diplomatic office in Washington and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian and development aid for Palestinians.
Palestinians are opposed the diplomatic change.
"The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law," Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement obtained by UPI on behalf of the PLO Executive Committee. "Merging the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem with the U.S. embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate's historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years."
Ashrawi added "the policies of the U.S. administration against Palestine and Palestinian rights constitute a threat to international peace security and undermine the standing of the international order."
She urged "all responsible states and actors to rise to the serious challenge posed by these policies," which he described as "a global responsibility."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki also blasted new U.S. policies.
"The U.S. administration had a choice to build constructive relations with the Palestinian people and leadership. Instead, it chose bullying and arrogance," Maliki said in a statement.
Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the consulate closure.
Former U.S. envoys see benefits and problems with the change.
There were "gross inefficiencies and convoluted lines of authority" with the consulate general and embassy working separately, said Scott Lasensky, former adviser to the U.S. ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration. But the merger "will be widely perceived as a dismantling of previous U.S. policies that positioned Washington as the lead peace broker and advocate for a two-state solution."
"I would have no objections for the U.S. to have a consulate in Ramallah, for instance, for the Palestinians," Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., referring to the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered. "But to have a separate consulate in another part of Jerusalem creates a certain fact of splitting Jerusalem into two parts, something which Israel is opposed to."
Jerusalem was united under Israeli rule after the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 1980, the Israeli government annexed all areas of the city over the pre-1967 lines into sovereign Israel.