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'Last nail in the coffin for US peacemaking': US merges Israeli embassy with Palestinian mission

'Last nail in the coffin for US peacemaking': US merges Israeli embassy with Palestinian mission
Palestinian officials have denounced as hostile the US move to merge its consulate in Jerusalem, which mostly served Palestinians, with the embassy controversially inaugurated last year. The overhaul has been scheduled for Monday.

The US State Department on Sunday formally set a date for the previously announced merger of its embassy in Jerusalem with the consulate, which was operating as the de facto American embassy to the Palestinian Authority.

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In his statement, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino argued that the long-planned merger is not intended as a political signal, but is a mere restructuring driven by Washington's efforts "to increase the efficiency and effectiveness" of "diplomatic engagements and operations."

"It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip," Palladino said.

In a bid to assure Palestinians that the decision would not deal another blow to the already barely existent interactions between Ramallah and Washington, Palladino said that the US would "engage in a wide range of reporting, outreach and programming in the West Bank, as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem" through a newly devised Palestinian Affairs Unit (PAU) inside the US embassy, which would be located at the same place as the consulate.

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The State Department's release on Sunday rehashed word-by-word the statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he made the initial announcement about the merger in October.

Senior officials in Palestine are not buying Washington's assurances that it's simply cutting red tape, however. They said the move was another nod to Israel and an affront to the Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which runs the Palestinian National Authority, has been up in arms over the merger, with PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat saying in a statement on Sunday that the US decision "has nothing to do with efficiency, but a lot with the desire to please the ideologized American team, which is primed to dismantle the foundations of the international system and the US foreign policy in order to reward Israel for its violations and crimes."

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The senior Palestinian official dubbed the decision to go ahead with the merger as "the last nail in the coffin of the US administration role in peace making."

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, slammed the US decision as "an act of political assault on Palestinian rights" and "an affront to the international community and the principles of the UN Charter."

The overhaul of the US representation in Jerusalem is the latest in a series of measures championed by the Trump administration that have sent the relationship between Ramallah and Washington crashing and burning after the US recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in December 2017. Since then, the US has cut food aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and shut down the PLO's office in Washington DC, which served as Palestine's de facto embassy there. The Trump administration's much-vaunted 'deal of the century' for peace has yet to be revealed, but has already been rejected by Palestine, which has refused to engage with Trump's representatives.

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