U.S. reverses decision to close Palestinian office

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) shakes hands with President Donald Trump in Bethlehem, West Bank on May 23, 2017. The State Department has reversed a decision to close Palestinian Liberation Organization's office in Washington, D.C., after the PA suspended all communication with the United States. Photo by Thaer Ghanaim/UPI

Nov. 25 (UPI) — The State Department has reversed a decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, D.C., after the Palestinian Authority suspended all communication with the United States.

Last week, the United States said it would close the office. At odds is a license, which needs to be extended every six months, that the U.S. said it wouldn’t renew after Palestine asked the International Criminal Court to probe and potentially prosecute Israel.

After the Palestinian Authority said it “has decided to cut its ties with the U.S. administration,” the U.S. State Department now says the PLO office will be allowed to operate for at least the next 90 days.

“Given the lapse last week of a waiver of statutory restrictions on PLO activity in the United States, we have advised the PLO Office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told reporters, as reported by the Hill.

In a legal requirement enacted in 2015, the United States cannot allow the Palestinians to have a Washington office if they support investigations of Israeli nationals for alleged crimes in Palestine.

President Donald Trump can bypass that rule only by assuring Congress that peace talks have started.

“We, therefore, are optimistic that at the end of this 90-day period, the political process may be sufficiently advanced that the president will be in a position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations,” Vasquez said.

The State Department spokesman said the United States has been engaged in “constructive discussions” with the Palestinians and the office closing wasn’t intended to give the Trump administration leverage in negotiations.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki has said the U.S. decision “would hamper any hopes Washington has of brokering a Middle East peace deal.”

The diplomatic mission has been present in Washington since 1994.

The Palestinan Authority is the semi-official, self-governing Palestinian body established in May 1994 as part of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization. The United Nations considers the PLO to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also chairman of the PLO.


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