US threat to close PLO office in Washington ‘unacceptable’, says senior Palestinian diplomat

Senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 18 November 2017
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US threat to close PLO office in Washington ‘unacceptable’, says senior Palestinian diplomat

AMMAN: The Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington faces closure after the US State Department refused to renew its operating permission.
Under US law, for the office to operate the Secretary of State must certify every six months that the PLO has complied with conditions imposed by Congress. The latest six-month period finished on Thursday.
Permission was not renewed because of a speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly in September, in which he suggested taking the issue of Israeli settlements to the International Criminal Court, a State Department official told Arab News. The threat of closure is also aimed at persuading the Palestinians to enter talks with Israel within 90 days, the official said.
“The Palestinian Authority received a letter from the State Department two days ago saying that the Secretary of State had not found enough reasons to keep the office open,” the Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Malki said.
“This is the first time since the 1980s that there has been a delay in signing the renewed permission so the office can stay open. We have demanded clarifications from the State Department and the White House. They told us that there would be a meeting of senior legal experts on Monday. Then they would give a clear answer.”
The senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat has written to the US administration calling the threatened closure “unacceptable, an escalatory step and a political decision that threatens to end the US role in the peace process,” Al-Malki said.

Although the PLO’s license to operate has not been renewed, US law allows the office to operate “in a reduced manner” for 90 days, giving time for negotiations, Al-Malki said.
Majdi Khalidi, special diplomatic adviser to President Abbas, told Arab News the decision did not affect the visa and residency of the Palestinian ambassador in Washington, and a PLO source in Washington said the Palestinian delegation were not worried about the status of their office.
Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, told Arab News the closure threat was a US bluff. “They are just waving this threat with the hope it can produce results,” he said.
The State Department official told Arab News: “The Secretary of State concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court, did not permit him to make the factual certification required by the statute.
“The statute allows for … operation of the PLO’s Washington office if, after 90 days, the President determines the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel. We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived.
“We are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority. Our relations with the PLO and PA extend well beyond contacts with the PLO office in Washington.
“We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.
“This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts. Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement.”
In 2011, under the Obama administration, the US allowed the Palestinians to fly their flag over the PLO office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.


US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

Updated 19 October 2018
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US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

  • The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership
  • Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.