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[Israel 101] US embassy in Israel closes Palestinian affairs unit

Is the closing of the Palestinian affairs unit in the U.S. embassy really the “final nail in the coffin” for US peacemaking efforts as stated by Palestinian official Saeb Erekat? Or is it an attempt at trying to combine diplomatic efforts into a more efficient operation?

It probably depends on your personally invested opinion concerning the motives of the U.S. embassy and American policy towards Palestinians.

The U.S. State Department spokesman, Robert Palladino claims that the “decision was driven by their global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their diplomatic engagements and operations and does not signal a change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip” while some Palestinians see the move as a “downgrading” of the way their diplomatic concerns are considered. In fact, for them, it is tantamount to a death knell towards the goal of a two-state solution.

But the merger of the U.S. Jerusalem consulate and embassy into one diplomatic entity will result in issues emanating from Gaza and the West Bank falling into the jurisdiction of U.S. Ambassador David Friedman who is seen as being a long-time supporter of Judea and Samarian settlers.  Friedman has also been a vocal, harsh critic of the Palestinian leadership.

However, it should be noted that since there is no formal recognition of Palestine as an independent, self-governing country, there, then, has never been a separate formal Palestinian embassy.  Its matters and concerns were always handled by a separate Palestinian affairs unit which was part of the U.S. embassy, and so it’s possible to look at this new outrage as much ado about nothing.

In fact, President Trump has stated that “the U.S. continues to take no position on final status issues, including borders or boundaries and that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties” while assuring both sides that “his administration remains fully committed to efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and the Palestinians.”

What is clear is that this new move is seen as yet another deligitimization of Palestinian rights and jurisdiction following last year’s U.S. decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem, thereby formally recognizing Israel’s capital, something which no previous American president ever dared to do. First the embassy move and then the merging of the Palestinian affairs unit – both seen as a propping up of Israel’s sovereignty and dominance – has likely caused Palestinian leaders to feel that this is a subtle but pointed way of endorsing their long-term ally who shares their democratic style of governing.

In truth, the Trump administration has continually cited the failure of Palestinian leaders to forge serious peace talks or make any compromises. Consequently, significant sums of American dollars have been cut, stopping the flow of assistance to Palestinian programs. Needless to say, American/Palestinian relations are very strained, but when met with an unyielding desire to make any concessions or find any middle ground, the consequences are going to be felt one way or another, and so it’s entirely possible that “the desire to work more effectively and efficiently” is yet another way to send a strong message to Palestinians that until they’re ready to come to the table with more flexibility, Israel will continue to be supported and sustained by the U.S. government who sees them as the right horse to back.

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Chava Stein, the granddaughter of Jewish European immigrants to the U.S., made Aliyah to Israel in 1993. Married to an Israeli, they live in the center of the country.

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