Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

  • State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
  • The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords.

WASHINGTON: The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived.
State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
It was the latest point of tension between the administration of President Donald Trump and the Palestinians, who cut off contact with Washington after Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
“Today is the deadline” for closure, Husam Zomlot, who headed the Palestine Liberation Organization mission, said in a Facebook video addressed to “the great people of America.”
The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, the first agreements between the rival Israelis and Palestinians which promised to end decades of deadly conflict, but which are now deadlocked and tarnished by soured relations.
Zomlot on Thursday denounced the “unfortunate and vindictive” US move to close the Palestinian mission.
“It was unsurprising to us the Trump administration gave us only two choices: either we lose our relationship with the administration or we lose our rights as a nation,” he said.
“Our president, leadership and the people of Palestine opted for our rights.”
Zomlot said the Palestinians were “extremely saddened by the current state of affairs.”
Addressing the “millions upon millions” of Americans who remain friends of Palestine, he hoped that “may we soon return to continue to be a symbol and a reflection of the historic relationship between the Palestinian and the American people.”
Prior to ordering the mission’s closure, the United States cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and canceled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The move to not grant the mission its normal six-month renewal came after Palestinian leaders allegedly breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Palestinian leaders say Trump’s White House is blatantly biased in favor of Israel and is seeking to blackmail them into accepting its terms.
Under Trump, the United States is further away than ever from playing its traditional role as mediator in the long-simmering Middle East peace process.
But Trump, a foreign policy novice, promised upon taking office to help broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Wait until the peace plan is released, and when it’s released, please read it cover to cover and judge the plan on its merits — not on rumors, not on speculation, not on news reports, but on what’s in it,” one of the US negotiators, Jason Greenblatt, said Thursday on Twitter.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, however, that the administration is “not ready to unveil” the plan but remains optimistic.
“There needs to be a different kind of approach. Nothing has worked so we’re trying a different approach,” she said.


Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

Updated 22 min 28 sec ago
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Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

  • The package bombs’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama
  • Cesar Sayoc’s criminal record dates back to 1991

NEW YORK: A fan of US President Donald Trump who mailed parcel bombs to prominent Democratic figures last October was set to appear in court Thursday, where he was expected to plead guilty to some of the 30 charges against him.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, who was arrested in Florida on October 26 following a massive manhunt, was due in federal court in New York at 4:00 p.m.
Although it was not known which charges he would plead guilty to, all relate to the 16 package bombs he is accused of mailing from a Florida post office to several well-known people who oppose Trump, as well as the Manhattan offices of CNN. He previously pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The packages’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro and several Democratic lawmakers, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
None of the packages exploded or even reached their targets and authorities questioned the actual danger they posed.
But by targeting Democrats, Sayoc — who also goes by the alias Cesar Altieri and was identified by DNA recovered from the packages — helped contribute to heightened tensions during the US midterm election campaign season.
Sayoc’s partial guilty plea Thursday could help mitigate the severity of a sentence if he is convicted on all counts.
As his trial loomed, information from Sayoc’s past began to filter into the public sphere, fueling the debate about extremism in the age of Trump and social media — a debate that grew more urgent as 11 people were shot dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue later in October.
Estranged from his family and in financial distress, Sayoc lived in a white van plastered in stickers proclaiming his admiration for the US president.
His criminal record dates back to 1991, peppered with convictions for theft, fraud, violence and a threat to bomb his electric utility company.
A former strip club manager and an adept bodybuilder and martial arts practitioner, Sayoc discovered a passion for Trump just as his political star was rising.
His social media posts took a politically radical turn: he’s seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, sharing pro-Trump images and posting articles from ultra-conservative and conspiracy-driven websites such as Infowars and Breitbart.
“He was very angry and angry at the world, at blacks, Jews, gays,” recalled Debra Gureghian, the general manager of a Florida pizzeria where Sayoc worked as a delivery driver for several months.
Lawyer Ron Lowy, who defended Sayoc in 2002 and remained close to his family, described him on NPR in October as someone whose “intellect is limited, and who is “like a little boy in a man’s body.”