Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. State Department has decided to move its consulate out of eastern Jerusalem to another location for security reasons. But the move could have political fallout, said a Palestinian Authority official on Wednesday.
Although Israel considers Jerusalem to be its capital, most of the international community does not recognize it as such. Most countries, including the U.S., maintain embassies in Tel Aviv and consular offices in Jerusalem.
The U.S. has two consular offices: one in western Jerusalem and one in eastern Jerusalem, which takes care of consular services for all residents of Jerusalem and its suburbs but also handles all matters concerning the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and relations with the Palestinian Authority.
"The State Department is planning to move part of the facility, mainly the facility in East Jerusalem, including the Consular Affairs Office," said a spokesperson at the consulate. "The move is to ensure the security of the facility."
Officials at the consulate in eastern Jerusalem would only confirm that the consulate would be moved to "an undisclosed location."
But according to a report in the Ha'aretz newspaper on Tuesday, the facility will be moved to the Jewish neighborhood of Arnona, in an area that was under Jordanian rule until 1967.
'Just an excuse'
PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ziyad Abu Ziyad said he believes that security is just an excuse and that making such a move at this time could have political implications.
"Jerusalem is a very delicate and sensitive issue and keeping the status [the same] in Jerusalem" is important, Abu Ziyad said by telephone on Wednesday.
"I'm afraid moving the consulate to somewhere else...could imply something political. It's not a wise decision to do right now," Abu Ziyad said.
"I don't believe security [is the issue]. I don't see any difference between Jerusalem east and west [as far as security is concerned].
"The [current] location is special. It's not in the middle or heart of East Jerusalem... It's in an open area surrounded by schools and churches. Being on the road, the facility has easy access of police and security people [and it has] a good camera system," he added.
Some reports have said that one of the reasons for moving the consulate is because it sits too close to the road.
According to the consular spokesperson, after the twin bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Congress allocated funds to make sure that all U.S. facilities abroad were secure.
The consulate was tentatively identified as a facility that did not meet all the criteria, she said.
Last week's bombing of a Jerusalem university, in which five Americans and two Israelis were killed, had nothing to do with the move, she added.
The status of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers the entire city to be its indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern part of the city to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Only two countries, Costa Rica and Equador, maintain embassies in Jerusalem. Costa Rica recently said it was considering moving its embassy to Tel Aviv to improve relations with the Arab world.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act, mandating that the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 1999.
Former President Bill Clinton pledged in both of his presidential campaigns to move the embassy, but then he skirted the issued by signing successive security waivers every six months.
President Bush, who promised during his presidential campaign to begin "the process" of moving the embassy, has thus far signed similar security waivers.
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