A State Department official on Saturday said under US law, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not renew a certification for the PLO office to operate “given certain statements made by the Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
The PLO reacted with fury and claimed to have broken off ties with the Americans — imperiling President Donald Trump’s stated goal of a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
Under long-standing law, the PLO, the main Palestinian umbrella political body, cannot operate a Washington office if it urges the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians.
In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN called on the ICC “to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”
When questioned on the closure by reporters, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert went as far as to say: “I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open.”
Speaking at the press briefing, Nauert said the matter was under discussion and that, as far as she knew, the office was up and running for now.
“We are in contact with the Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office. I don’t want reporters to get ahead of themselves in reporting on this,” she added, suggesting that talk of the office’s closure might be premature.
“Shutting down an office — that’s not what we are talking about today. There are some conversations underway,” she said.
Tillerson was examining the issue, she said, insisting: “In our view, communications are not frozen.
Nauert added that Tillerson had made his decision in close consultation with the White House, but added that discussions about the office in Washington continue.
“There are some conversations underway. The secretary is taking a look at this, and we’ll get back to you when we have more,” she said.
According to a weekend report by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian presidency expressed surprise at the US certification decision, first reported by the Associated Press.
WAFA quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki as saying that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
It was not immediately clear what effect the State Department’s move might have on the Trump administration’s efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are led by Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
The PLO office in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A source familiar with the matter said that the office remained open and that Arab television channels had taken footage of the Palestinian ambassador entering the building this week.