In 1994 Clinton waived a law prohibiting the PLO from having a mission in Washington, contingent on the Palestinians not charging Israelis at the Int’l Criminal Court. Palestinian despot Abbas broke US law by breaking the conditions of the agreement, and now, PLO officials are threatening the Trump Administration for the consequences.
• In 2011, Obama (the following Democrat President) allowed the Palestinians fly their flag over the Washington office, a de facto status upgrade of the mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.
By Yoni Hersch, Shlomo Cesana, Erez Linn, News Agencies & Israel Hayom Staff
The Palestinians threatened on Saturday to suspend all communication with the United States if the Trump administration follows through with a threat to close their diplomatic office in Washington.
The potential rupture in relations threatens to undermine U.S. President Donald Trump’s bid for Mideast peace – a mission he has handed his son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the U.S. decision was “very unfortunate and unacceptable,” and accused Washington of bowing to pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government “at a time when we are trying to cooperate to achieve the ultimate deal.”
In a video statement on social media, Erekat said: “We will put on hold all our communications with this American administration.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Trump administration. Netanyahu’s office said the closure was “a matter of U.S. law.”
U.S. officials had insisted before Erekat’s statement that the move wasn’t aimed at increasing leverage over the Palestinians but merely an unavoidable consequence of U.S. law.
Cutting off ties would carry great risks for the Palestinians. It could antagonize an administration they already suspect is biased toward Israel and put millions of dollars in critical U.S. aid in jeopardy.
However, uncooperative Palestinians could result in embarrassment for the Trump administration ahead of an expected peace initiative, potentially preventing it from getting off the ground.
The Palestinian stance could also complicate U.S. efforts to promote a region-wide effort against Iran, involving cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab allies, as Arab countries might be reluctant to get too close to Israel in the absence of serious progress on the Palestinian conflict.
The decision to close the mission came after the administration announced late Friday that the Palestinians had run afoul of a legal provision that says the Palestine Liberation Organization cannot operate a Washington office if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.
State Department officials said the mission would close after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined that the Palestinians had crossed that line in September, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.
Speaking at the United Nations in September, Abbas said that the Palestinians had “called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”
Earlier last week, department officials had said the office could stay open if Trump determined that the Palestinians were in serious peace negotiations with Israel. But now, those same officials are saying the office must close regardless – at least for some time. It could reopen in the future if the Palestinians are in talks with Israelis
It’s unclear when the office will close or whether the Palestinians will have to vacate the office or simply close it to the public.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he was told by the Americans that State Department legal teams would meet Monday to decide how the new situation would affect the relationship with the Palestinians.
Under the law, Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, then the mission can reopen, officials said.
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said the U.S. was “disqualifying itself as a peace broker in the region” by refusing to extend a waiver pertaining to the law.
“Conditioning the renewal of the waiver on the Palestinians’ sticking to ‘direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel’ is actually superfluous since negotiations are nonexistent, and the current U.S. administration has yet to present any kind of peace initiative,” she said in a statement.
The U.S. said it wasn’t cutting off relations with the Palestinians and remained focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the U.S. officials said in an email that “this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts.”
The Palestinians quickly dismissed that argument, with Malki telling Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership “will not accept any extortion or pressure.” Erekat contended the move was the result of “the pressure being exerted on this administration by the Netanyahu government.”
Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the move “a dangerous, unusual and unprecedented step in the history of the relationship between the Palestinians and the U.S. administration. Such a move will have serious repercussions” that he said would impact peace efforts as well as U.S.-Arab ties. He said, “This is in effect a prize for Israel, which, through its settlement policy and refusal to accept the two-state solution, opposes [peace] efforts and a slap in the face to the Palestinians and all countries that support peace.”
In response, the Prime Minister’s Office said, “We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. to advance peace and security in the region.”
The Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations. However, Trump’s team, led by Kushner, is working to broker a deal aimed at settling the intractable conflict.
The Palestinians, publicly supportive of the U.S. effort, are nonetheless skeptical because of Trump’s close ties to Israel. The threat of losing their office in the American capital could become one more pressure point as the Trump administration tries to persuade the Palestinians to come to the table.
The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO maintains a “general delegation” office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government.
The U.S. allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994. That required President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn’t have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the U.S. started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.
The move by the Trump administration comes amid reports in recent weeks that the White House is currently at work on a new peace initiative. Although administration officials have yet to publicly discuss the plan, Kushner and other senior White House representatives have recently visited Israel, the Palestinian territories as well as neighboring Arab states as part of their efforts to put together such a plan.
On Saturday, the Hadashot evening news reported that according to the framework of the plan, the U.S. would support the establishment of a Palestinian state. It would not demand the evacuation of Israeli settlements but instead accept a land swap, although not on the basis of the 1967 borders.
According to the report, which appears to have relied on Israeli officials involved in talks on the matter in Washington, the Palestinians would receive “hundreds of millions of dollars,” mostly from Sunni Arab states, toward the economic development of the fledgling state. The U.S. would accept a majority of Israel’s security demands and agree to an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. The proposed plan does not, however, make any mention of the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
According to the report, the Americans will present the initiative as a comprehensive regional plan that would bring to the table not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also the Arab states, with Saudi Arabia serving an important role in exerting pressure on Abbas.”
A senior White House official denied the Hadashot report, telling Israel Hayom that “there is constant speculation and guessing about what we are working on and this report is more of the same. It is not an accurate representation, rather it is a mix of possibilities and ideas that have existed for decades. What we can say is we are engaged in a productive dialogue with all relevant parties and are taking a different approach than the past to create an enduring peace deal. We are not going to put an artificial deadline on anything and we have no imminent plans beyond continuing our conversations. As we have always said, our job is to facilitate a deal that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, not to impose anything on them.”
The Prime Minister’s Office also rejected the claims made in the report and in a statement, said, “The prime minister’s response would depend on the content of the proposal.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, head of the National Union faction within Habayit Hayehudi, responded to news of the report by saying his faction would not “sit in a government that recognizes a Palestinian state.”
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