(JTA) — President Donald Trump is considering giving U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman more authority over the State Department’s eastern Jerusalem office that handles Palestinian affairs, U.S. officials said.
Five officials told The Associated Press about the plans, the news agency reported Friday. They spoke anonymously as they were not allowed to discuss the move.
According to AP, the move may be seen as a downgrade in the autonomy of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which is responsible for relations with the Palestinians. And this could have potentially significant policy implications.
The report did not elaborate on the specific nature of the bureaucratic changes being discussed, but it said the embassy, run by Friedman, is expected to end up with ultimate authority over the consulate. The consul general running the Jerusalem consulate has historically had his or her own chief of mission authority.
The Trump administration’s relations with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas has worsened following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, and the United States moving its embassy there last month.
Abbas said the move ended the U.S. role as a moderator and facilitator of a peace agreement with Israel. The Palestinian Authority also claims Jerusalem as the capital city of any future Palestinian state under its leadership.
Trump has said that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was recognizing reality, and that it did not preclude recognizing some parts of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital pending peace talks.
The crisis in relations with the Palestinian Authority comes as the Trump administration prepares to unveil a peace plan.
Friedman has expressed positions associated with the Israeli right wing; Abbas in March called him “a son of dog.” And Abbas’ senior consultant, Mahmoud al Habash, called Freidman a “terrorist settler” last month.
Friedman has advocated for having the embassy in Jerusalem subsume the consulate, officials said, although the State Department has ruled out that possibility. Other possibilities include allowing the consulate to retain some day-to-day authorities while letting the embassy set the direction for major policy decisions.