November 14, 2018
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Trump orders closure of Palestinian office in Washington

Alex Brandon | AP
Alex Brandon | AP
This Nov. 18, 2017 file photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The U.S. has notified the Palestinians it's closing their mission in Washington, a senior official said Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, the latest in a series of American blows to the Palestinians. A provision in a U.S. law says the PLO mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington on Monday, citing the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them.

The State Department said the U.S. step — the latest in a series targeting the Palestinians — came after a review of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization centered on the fact that no “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” are underway despite previous warnings.

“To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

The Trump administration had told the Palestinians last November that closure could be expected unless they agreed to sit to down with the Israelis. The administration, however, has yet to release its own much-vaunted but largely unknown peace plan although it said it still intends to do so.

“The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward,” Nauert said in her statement. “This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”

She also said the closure decision was consistent with U.S. concerns about Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.

National Security Adviser John Bolton was expected to address Monday’s decision in a speech later in the day focused on U.S. policy toward the ICC.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the closure was “yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization, commonly known as the PLO, formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained in Washington a general delegation office that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government.

The head of the PLO delegation to the U.S. accused the Trump administration of “dismantling decades of U.S. vision and engagement in Palestine.”

“Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work,” Ambassador Husam Zomlot said.

Trump has delivered a number of blows to the Palestinians during his time in office.

Most recently his administration ended U.S. funding for the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza and cutting funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.

Trump also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there, from Tel Aviv. Dozens of Palestinians were killed in protests that followed the move, and Palestinians have since rejected the U.S. as a peace broker.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump’s administration has been working to mediate a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.

Trump has promised to pursue the “ultimate deal” between the Palestinians and Israel. However, such a deal is unlikely given Palestinian mistrust of his administration.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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