Former U.S. envoys: Consulate move another downgrading in relations with the Palestinians

Three former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel criticized the Trump Administration’s decision on Thursday to transform the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem into a ‘Palestinian Affairs Unit’ within the U.S. Embassy. Until now, the Jerusalem Consulate served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians and was the rare Consulate with a direct line to Washington.

“The downgrading of U.S. representation to the Palestinian people and placing it under the authority of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel is yet another blow to the Palestinians after the closure of their mission in Washington,” Martin Indyk, who served as Ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton, told Jewish Insider.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Ambassador David Friedman will guide the merger, while the current consul general, Karen Sasahara, will be reassigned to a new position within the State Department.

Friedman’s predecessor, Ambassador Daniel Shapiro asserted in an email to Jewish Insider that it is “very unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will engage the US government through the Embassy.” Shapiro added, “This decision downgrades diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. It is not consistent with the goal of achieving a two-state solution, and that is how it will be understood by both sides.”

According to Indyk, while there’s currently no direct communication between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump Administration, the move “emphasizes just how broken the relationship is and just how far away we are from Trump’s ‘deal of the century.’”

Daniel Kurtzer, who served as Ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, wrote in an op-ed that the merger is “yet another step that accelerates the burial of an already moribund peace process” and “will further downgrade our dialogue with Palestinians, which is already quite fractured.”

Elliott Abrams, who also served in the Bush administration, defended the move as long overdue. The separation was never sensible,” Abrams explained. “Under that system, the CIA would deal with the Mossad and Shin Bet about everything in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, and the Defense Attache would deal with the IDF about everything in all those places too—but the ambassador and his diplomatic staff were forced to stay out of anything involving the Palestinians. That’s nuts.”

“This is a much more logical arrangement,” he added.

Indyk suggested that Friedman may also be eying the Consulate location on Agron Street in Jerusalem for another reason. Last month, during a pre-High Holidays conference call between Trump and Jewish community leaders, Friedman said that the U.S. is currently looking at a site that would serve as the official residence.

“Once the Embassy to Israel was relocated to Jerusalem it was only a matter of time before Ambassador Friedman set his sights on the Consulate with its elegant, historic residence in the heart of downtown Jerusalem,” Indyk speculated.

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