Palestinian leaders have reacted angrily to Washington's closure of the US consulate in Jerusalem and its merger with the newly opened US embassy in the city.
The consulate had served Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank for 175 years and was the main channel of communication between the US administration and the Palestinian leadership, reporting directly to the state department.
Saeb Erekat, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, described the development as "the last nail in the coffin" of the US administration's ability to act as a sponsor of the peace process.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO central committee, said the closure of America's de facto embassy to the Palestinians was a political assault on their rights and identity.
“The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law.”
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, as the capital of a future independent state. Israel views the city, including the Palestinian neighbourhoods, as its united, indivisible capital.
Monday's controversial move means that the consulate will stop acting as an independent diplomatic mission and Palestinian issues will be now be under the auspices of US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a keen supporter of West Bank settlements before his appointment by as ambassador by President Donald Trump.
‘No policy change’
US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino described the merger as an administrative decision.
"This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations. It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including borders," he said.
The Palestinians cut off most ties with the Trump administration after Washington recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and relocated its embassy to the city last year, even though most diplomatic functions are still carried out from the old Tel Aviv embassy compound.
Relations further soured when the US closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and cut funds to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and to a number of civil society organisations working on behalf of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians say they will reject the administration’s “deal of the century” peace plan, which is expected to be unveiled at some stage after the Israeli elections in April.