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.


Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

Updated 17 July 2018
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Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

  • Israel says the Bedouin village was constructed illegally
  • The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities

KHAN AL-AHMAR, Palestinian Territories: Under the sun’s harsh glare, dozens of students sing the Palestinian national anthem — beginning a new school year early as part of efforts to keep their village from being demolished.
The students of Khan Al-Ahmar went back to their village school in the occupied West Bank on Monday, while Israeli authorities seek to evict them.
“We are starting the school year earlier because the Israelis want to destroy the school,” said Amani Ali, 11.
“So when they come to demolish it, we will be here.”
Israel says the Bedouin village, located in a strategic spot east of Jerusalem near Israeli settlements and on the road to the Dead Sea, was constructed illegally and is seeking to move its 191 residents elsewhere.
The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities in around 60 percent of the West Bank where they maintain full control.
On May 24, Israel’s supreme court allowed authorities to go ahead with demolition of the small hillside village that sits between a highway, the desert and two Israeli settlements.
Since then, two new court challenges have been filed on behalf of the village, temporarily suspending demolition plans, and the court plans to hold another hearing by August 15 at the latest, activists say.
European countries have rallied to support the villagers, calling for demolition plans to be canceled.
“The fact that the students are at the school can prevent the decision from being carried out because they are going to see that there are classes, life, people,” said Ghadir Darsya, who has taught in Khan Al-Ahmar for three years.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” she added, while sorting books with her colleagues amid the sound of children’s voices from an adjacent playground.
The school was constructed in 2009 with the support of NGOs and the European Union. Largely built with tires, sand and mud, it serves 170 students from various Bedouin villages, according to the principal.
“There are about 50 families with many children. Where are they going to go?” said Darsya.
The rest of the village is made up of homes of metal sheets, cardboard and wood, as is common in such Bedouin communities.
“We are always afraid. I cannot sleep at night,” said Raya Jahalin, as her grandchildren played on a large carpet behind her that serves as a living room devoid of furniture.
“It is our land. I have lived here for 50 years. I was born here. My children were married here.”
The villagers say Khan Al-Ahmar has been located there since 1952.
It was established after Bedouins from the Jahalin tribe were, according to rights activists, expelled from the Negev desert in the south after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Israeli authorities now want to relocate them to an area near Abu Dis in the West Bank, but the villagers are refusing, saying that the site is near a dump and in an urban environment where their animals cannot graze.
For Eid Abu Khamis, a village spokesman, forced eviction of Bedouins throughout the area would put in peril the possibility of a future Palestinian state.
If they are replaced with Israeli settlers, Khamis and rights groups say the West Bank could be cut in two, dividing the half north of Jerusalem from the southern one.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem says around 180 communities are threatened with eviction in the West Bank.
B’Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz says Israel has for decades pursued a policy of trying to evict Palestinians from the part of the West Bank where it exerts full control.
It has sought to avoid forced transfers, he said, but applies enough pressure on the villagers in hopes that they finally decide to leave on their own.