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Palestinian Leaders Angered As U.S. Moves Main Diplomatic Mission

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To news today that the State Department converted the main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians to a unit within the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The consulate in Jerusalem had enjoyed a unique status reporting to the State Department almost like an embassy itself. Today's move has angered Palestinian leaders, and it is just the latest move by the Trump administration that has angered Palestinian leaders. For more, we turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin. He's in Jerusalem.

Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, there.

KELLY: So explain exactly what the consulate did. We have all heard a lot about the U.S. Embassy because it moved to Jerusalem last year, and that was big news. But we haven't heard so much about this other diplomatic outpost in Jerusalem.

ESTRIN: Right. Well, it was called the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. It was based in a beautiful historic stone mansion with a lovely courtyard, downtown Jerusalem. It's been the de facto U.S. Embassy to the Palestinian territories ever since the Palestinian Authority (ph) government was set up after the Oslo peace accords in the '90s. And the idea was to have diplomatic symmetry. Right? Just as the U.S. has its embassy to Israel, the U.S. had its own independent mission of diplomats who met with Palestinian leaders and officials and reported back to Washington on what was happening in the Palestinian territories.

KELLY: So why do this move now? Why close the mission to the Palestinians?

ESTRIN: This is the Trump administration continuing to change the symmetry in how it deals with the Israelis and Palestinians. The State Department is saying this is for efficiency's sake and reflects no policy change. But what is drawing a lot of attention here is that the top U.S. diplomat now in charge of Palestinian diplomacy is the ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which is occupied territory.

And in the diplomatic community, former and current U.S. diplomats are objecting to this. I've even been told an official in the Jerusalem consulate sent a diplomatic cable dissenting to this straight to Washington.

KELLY: And how about reaction from Palestinian leaders? I said they are angry. What are they saying?

ESTRIN: Palestinian leaders are saying in a statement that the U.S. is symbolically denying the Palestinian people's right to establish their own state. A political assault on Palestinian identity, one official called it. And the chief Palestinian negotiator is calling this the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. role in peacemaking.

KELLY: And the wider context - just in the moments we have left, Daniel - is this comes after the Trump administration decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the embassy to Jerusalem. And we've seen ties between the U.S. and Palestinians deteriorate.

ESTRIN: That's right. The Palestinians have cut off ties with the U.S. after the embassy move. The U.S. then cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid - humanitarian aid, development assistance to the Palestinians, cutting money to hospitals in Jerusalem providing cancer treatment to Palestinians and other programs - all of these steps to pressure Palestinians to come back to the table and talk with the U.S. But they have not done so.

KELLY: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem. Thank you, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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