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    Ex-Envoy on US Merging Consulate With Embassy in Israel: 'Won't Make Any Change'

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    US State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino announced in a Sunday statement that the US had merged its new embassy in Israel with its consulate serving Palestinians into a single diplomatic mission. Sputnik has spoken about it to Ambassador Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to Canada.

    Sputnik: The decision of a merger was announced back in October. Why is it being implemented now?

    Alan Baker: I presume bureaucratically these things take time, to make all the arrangements, to arrange the divisions of the departments within the embassy that will deal with consular issues.

    Sputnik: How can this impact the upcoming elections in Israel?

    Alan Baker: I don't think it has any impact whatsoever. The Israeli election campaign is going ahead, very dynamic, extremely interesting. And I don't think this will have any impact whatsoever — it won't make any change. The issues on the agenda of the Israeli public for the elections are domestic issues and security issues. So I don't think this particular issue would have any influence.

    Sputnik: Announcing the move, the US has reiterated its commitment to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and Palestine. These were the words of the United States. What impact does this merger then have on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace? Is it going to be beneficial to the peace process? Or is it going to cause further consternation?

    Alan Baker: Look, whether it is beneficial or causes further consternation is dependent upon the extent of the Palestinian dramatization of the situation. If they decide that they want to turn it into a big deal, they will do that and that is, in fact, what they are doing, the major spokesman and the head of their negotiating team is conducting a hysteric Twitter campaign, attacking Israel, attacking the United States. But in actual fact, it won't make any difference to the peace relationship. When the Palestinians decide that they want to sit down and negotiate with the Israelis, the Israelis will be open to negotiate with them with or without a consulate in the embassy in Jerusalem.

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    Sputnik: You have mentioned the response from the Palestinian side. How well is the decision being received domestically in Israel?

    Alan Baker: For many, many years Israel has tried to persuade its friends to acknowledge the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And the Americans did so, as you said, in October. Merging the consulate is more a bureaucratic, administrative function. It doesn't really change the situation. It is a realisation of a logical situation. If the centre of American diplomatic and consular activity is their embassy in Jerusalem, then it is only natural that they merge what used to be the old consulate together with the embassy. This doesn't change anything, as the Americans have said.

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    Sputnik: What is your comment with regard to the Palestinians' concerns that the move could potentially reduce the level of the US representation in the Palestinian Authority? Are their concerns valid?

    Alan Baker: Every two or three days, whenever there is any development, the Palestinian leadership shouts that this will affect the US relationship with them. But in actual fact, it is only the United States that is trying to come up with a peace plan that is intended to benefit both the Israelis and the Palestinians. So I think it is a matter of biting their nose to spite their face. They don't really mean it. Ultimately, if and when they decide to come back to a negotiating mode, the negotiations will take place with American assistance, with European assistance, with Egyptian assistance, and Jordanian assistance. Whoever can contribute positively to this will be very welcome, including Russian assistance.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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