US wants PLO’s Washington office to stay open

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. Palestinian officials announced they had suspended meetings with the US, following a quarrel with President Donald Trump's administration over the future of their representative office in Washington. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

US wants PLO’s Washington office to stay open

WASHINGTON: The US wants the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to keep its Washington office open and is in talks with Palestinian officials about the issue despite a US decision that could trigger its closure, the State Department said on Tuesday.
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.

Israel announces plan to approve 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank

Updated 24 May 2018

Israel announces plan to approve 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank

JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister said on Thursday he plans to seek approval next week for the construction of some 2,500 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Avigdor Lieberman, writing on Twitter, said a regional planning board would be asked to designate 1,400 of the housing units for immediate construction.

Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.

Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider settlements that Israel has built in territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal.

Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We will promote building in all of Judea and Samaria, from the north to south, in small communities and in large ones,” Lieberman wrote, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials, who have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous country.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.