"No policy shift" as US closes Palestinian mission in Jerusalem

This news wasn’t exactly a secret since the State Department has been talking about it at least since last October, but there’s been a “consolidation” of our diplomatic corps in Israel this week. We previously moved our U.S. Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but now our less-official consulate handling relations with the Palestinians is being closed and folded into the Israeli Embassy. This has the Palestinians in an uproar, of course, but the State Department is pitching it as nothing more than a space and cost-saving measure. Needless to say, not everyone is buying that explanation. (Associated Press)

The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy.

The symbolic shift hands authority over U.S. 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.

A spokesman for the State Department issued a statement saying that the move was nothing more than part of our ongoing efforts to improve “the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.” He went on to stress that this doesn’t signal any sort of change in our policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.

Not to put too fine of a point on this but… pull the other one. It’s got bells on it.

This obviously sends a message. The amount of money, time or even copy machine paper we would save by shuttering the Palestinian consulate is a pittance in the overall State Department budget. Putting David Friedman in a position of oversight of our diplomatic relations with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, on the other hand, is a very big change. Friedman has been a fierce defender of Israel, including any moves they’ve made in terms of new settlements and other related disputes.

For their part, the Palestinians sound like they’re writing us off as arbiters in any lasting peace agreement. Saeb Erekat said this was “the final nail in the coffin” in terms of our role in the peace process. Is anyone surprised?

I don’t want to come off as too much of a gloom and doom agent here, but the idea that we were going to suddenly find the magic formula for peace in the Middle East – even with Jared Kushner on the job – has been a fever dream for some time now. It’s a wonderful goal, but Israel has never had a solid partner in the negotiating process on the other side of the table and they never will as long as the Palestinians keep letting Hamas run wild.

Trump has never made any secret of who he feels are our real allies are in that part of the world, and when the conflict over there heats up, Isreal knows that we’re on their side, at least since Trump took office. The Palestinians will still have an open channel for communications through the consulate, even if it’s under the control of our embassy to Israel. And who knows? Maybe this actually will send enough of a message to get them back to taking the process seriously and getting a leash on their terrorists. Yes… I know. But a guy can dream, right?