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US consulate in Jerusalem renamed and now reports directly to Washington

Former President Donald Trump outraged Palestinians by closing the consulate in 2019 when he signalled support for Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital
The US consulate in East Jerusalem had been open for almost 175 years before it was closed in 2019 (AFP/File photo)

The US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem has been redesignated and will report directly to Washington, indicating an upgrade in ties before a planned visit by President Joe Biden.

In a change that came on Thursday, the "Palestinian Affairs Unit" (PAU) was renamed the "US Office of Palestinian Affairs" (OPA). Before the announcement, it had been the US consulate in Jerusalem and a focus of Palestinian statehood goals in the city. 

The US consulate in East Jerusalem had served Palestinians for almost 175 years under several powers who controlled the holy city. It was shut down in March 2019 when Trump signalled support for Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital.

"The OPA operates under the auspices of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and reports on substantive matters directly to the near eastern affairs bureau in the state department," a spokesperson for the mission said.

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"The name change was done to better align with state department nomenclature. The new OPA operating structure is designed to strengthen our diplomatic reporting and public diplomacy engagement."

According to Reuters, a senior Palestinian official said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected alternatives to the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem, in a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state, while Israeli leaders have claimed Jerusalem as the state's "eternal capital" since 1949.

Several Israeli officials in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government have opposed the US plan.

In September, Yair Lapid, Israel's foreign minister, slammed the Biden administration's plan to reopen the US consulate to provide diplomatic outreach to Palestinians, warning it could destabilise Bennett's fragile coalition government.

"We think it's a bad idea," Lapid said. "Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel and Israel alone, and therefore, we don't think it's a good idea."

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