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March 4, 2019 12:56 pm

Flag Comes Down on US Palestinian Mission in Jerusalem

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

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An American flag flutters at the premises of the former United States Consulate General in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

The United States lowered the flag on Monday at the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians, merging the mission with the new US Embassy to Israel in the contested city.

The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it shifted long-standing US policy in December 2017 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel‘s capital, voiced anger at what they see as Washington’s latest move against them.

Whereas previously the consulate reported on Palestinian matters directly to Washington, its staff have now been repurposed in the embassy as a “Palestinian Affairs Unit” under the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

“This is the last nail in the coffin” of peacemaking, veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Twitter.

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Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed in 2014 and the White House says it intends to present a new peace plan after a national election in Israel in April.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it took control of from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as its undivided capital.

Washington has avoided such language, however, signaling that the final status of the city should be negotiated by the sides.

Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Low key

At the ornate consulate on Agron Street in downtown Jerusalem, the flag ceremony was kept low key under gray winter skies. Friedman, who helped spearhead May’s relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to a different converted consular building in south Jerusalem, was not present.

U.S. officials said the Stars and Stripes banner was taken down and presented to departing consul Karen Sasahara as a farewell gift, in keeping with foreign service custom, after which another US flag was run up.

The US State Department said the merger was driven by operational efficiency and did not signal any change in policy.

“Our work and our team will continue to work on reaching peace in this land,” Sasahara said on YouTube.

US officials told Reuters last month that the Agron street building, immediately upon consulate operations ending, would serve as the ambassador’s official residence.

But that plan appeared to have slowed. On Monday, the consulate plaque had been removed from the building facade, leaving a blank space.

The US consulate in Jerusalem had dated back 175 years, to when the city — holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims — was under Ottoman rule.

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