U.S. administration threatens to shut down PLO’s Washington office
In what is being construed as part of United States President Donald Trump’s efforts to seek an elusive Middle East peace deal, the State Department threatened to close the Palestinians’ Washington office unless they enter into meaningful negotiations with Israel.
Claiming that the Palestinians have infringed U.S. law, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he would not renew the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) license to run its mission in the American capital. The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians and it maintains a delegation office in Washington.
The move comes in the wake of a speech by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations General Assembly in September, in which he called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an prosecute Israeli officials for their role in alleged violations against the Palestinian people.
The threat of the closure might provide leverage for the Trump administration as it seeks to convince both parties to enter meaningful peace talks.
Abbas’ office expressed shock over the American decision especially since the last meeting between the PA leader and Trump was apparently cordial. “This measure represents an unprecedented step in the history of U.S.-Palestinian relations,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian president wrote in a press release. He added that the closure of the PLO mission would have “serious consequences for the peace process and U.S.-Arab [ties].”
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, threatened to suspend all contact with the White House unless the office remains open.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted that the issue is “a matter of American law,” adding, “we look forward to continuing to work with the United States to promote peace and security in the region.”
Omar Abdallah, the head of the UN Department at the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to The Media Line that the PA has provided documents to the ICC dealing with the expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank and other purported violations. Abdallah insisted that “Palestine is an observer member of the UN and has full right to approach it and any other international body, including the ICC.”
Hanna Issa, a Palestinian political analyst specializing in international law, stressed to The Media Line that Abbas is fully aware of what he is doing, as “the ICC process needs time and Israeli violations are increasing.” He said that Abbas had to stop Israel somehow and the ICC is an option. “The US is just trying to put some pressure on the Palestinians that’s all,” Issa asserted.
Trump has put into motion a plan meant to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The U.S. president’s special envoys, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt along with Deputy National Security Adviser Dina H. Powell, have made multiple trips this year to meet with Middle East leaders to drum up support for Trump’s initiative. Washington is hoping to break the longstanding stalemate between the sides with help from Saudi Arabia and Egypt in an effort to secure a measure of regional stability.
Riyadh is believed to be highly interested in seeing an Israeli-Palestinian deal forged on the background of its ongoing confrontation with Shiite Iran, which would allow the Sunni kingdom to coordinate with Israel against Tehran’s expansionism. To this end, the Saudis recently summoned Abbas to discuss developments on the peace front; this, following a surprise visit by Kushner to the Saudi capital.
Nabeel Amro, a former PA information minister, does not believe that the PA’s dealings with the ICC will torpedo the American peace plan. He told The Media Line that “the PA is hesitant, but if the U.S. proposal is the best option for Palestine it must go for it.” Amro believes that the White House can succeed in pressuring the Palestinians not to go to the ICC, however, “the Americans should have provided a political solution for Palestinians, not a punishment.”
Palestinians consider Israeli communities in the West Bank, on land Israel conquered in the 1967 war, as the main obstacle to peace. Moreover, they claim that the absence of any U.S. condemnation of recent Israeli building across the 1967 borders weakens Trump’s ability to achieve a historic peace agreement.