WASHINGTON - The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the US Embassy to Israel. For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over US diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership, the AP reports.

The announcement from the State Department came early Monday in Jerusalem. "This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements," spokesman Robert Palladino said. "It does not signal a change of US policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip." When first announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that the US was recognizing Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move "the final nail in the coffin" for the US role in peacemaking. Last year, Palestinians cut many ties with the administration after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocated its embassy there.