In light of the frenetic pace of events in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and throughout the region, the closure of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem quickly disappeared from the news cycle, and after being a brief focus of attention.
The implications and consequences of this move are worthy of greater attention.
The end of an era
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem was established in 1844, in a small building at Jaffa Gate in the Old City. Throughout the years, the Consulate was, among else, the hub of U.S. diplomatic activity in Jerusalem, playing a role in the course of events in pre-1948 Palestine and post-1948 Israel-Palestine that went far beyond the customary roles of U.S. consulates in other locales. The U.S. traditionally posted its finest diplomats to the Consulate, recognizing its unique role in U.S. foreign policy. The historic consulate building on Agron Street and its adjacent walled garden — to which the Consulate moves in 1912 — were witness to the pivotal events of the past century and a half, and were a clear reflection that successive U.S. administrations treated Jerusalem’s complexity seriously, cautiously and even with reverence.
The closure of the consulate signals the end of this era.
There are those who suggest that the move of the embassy and the subsequent closure of the consulate reflect the greater importance afforded to Jerusalem by the current U.S. administration compared to their predecessors. In reality, the move suggests exactly the opposite: Jerusalem has been demoted to the role of an ideological prop in a policy increasingly more oblivious and disrespectful than at anytime in the past to the unique and critical role Jerusalem has played – and plays – both in history and in the contemporary geopolitical religious world order.
A Gratuitous Shot
There have been those who have argued that the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem was the logical continuation of the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in effect arguing that with the move of the embassy, the Consulate was rendered a political and historical anachronism.
This conclusion is politically disingenuous. At the very least, one might have expected that the Consulate would continue to exist as an autonomous satellite of the Embassy, an arrangement that is common with U.S. diplomatic missions throughout the world. But the decision was for the Consulate to be disbanded, replaced by what reportedly will be a “Palestinian Affairs Department” Embassy. This clearly indicated that the move carries much broader ramifications in regard to the future of American relations and policy towards the Palestinian Authority and the peace process.
The US-Palestinian relations as a subset of US-Israel relations
In spite of the attempt made by the Trump Administration to downplay the significance of their decision, the merging of the Consulate General with the U.S. embassy officially subordinates American-Palestinian relations to the Israeli-American one, and will further harm the ability of the U.S. administration to engage as a constructive player (not to say honest broker) in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
One could argue that the ability of the Trump Administration to mediate and positively contribute to the peace process already suffered a lethal blow when it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Yet, the US Consulate General, which directly reported to the State Department, has played a critical role in the ability to the US administration to understand Palestinian developments and positions and to engage based on this understanding. This was possible because this engagement was made independently from the US’s strong relations with the government of Israel.
Formalizing a one state reality
The deeper meaning of that decision is, of course, that the Palestinian people and territories are not seen anymore by the United States as a separate political and territorial entity. Handling Palestinian affairs as a unit operating within the U.S. embassy to Israel formalizes a one-state reality and makes indisputable the fact that the Trump Administration does not see the Palestinians as a people entitled to a state of their own.