Senior PLO official and lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat, described the US’ decision as “unfortunate and unacceptable” [File: EPA]
Palestinian officials have warned that they will freeze all communication with the US, following steps by the Trump administration to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) office in Washington, DC.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Saturday the PLO had been informed by the US State Department of a decision not to renew the operating permission for the organisation’s diplomatic office in the American capital.
The State Department’s move was in response due to the Palestinians’ decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to submit files for investigation of several Israeli war crimes, including settlements, against Palestinians, according to Erekat.
The senior PLO official said the organisation had sent a letter to the US government officially informing it that all communication lines with the Trump administration would be cut off if it followed through with the plan to shutter the office.
“This is very unfortunate and unacceptable. This is the pressure being exerted on this [US] administration by the [Benjamin] Netanyahu government while we are trying to achieve the ultimate deal,” said Erekat, adding such steps will “undermine the whole peace process”.
The PLO is seen by the international community, including the United Nations, as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Every six months, the State Department signs a waiver that allows the PLO office to remain open in Washington. The certification period for the current waiver ended this month.
In a comment to Al Jazeera, a White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said the move does not mean that the office will be permanently closed.
He added that US President Donald Trump now has 90 days to determine whether “Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel”.
Since Trump was elected a little more than a year ago, he has made no progress on promises to forge a peace deal between Palestinian and Israeli officials.
Instead, illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories have expanded exponentially and, for the first time in two decades, a new Israeli settlement is being built in the West Bank.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, said in a statement that the US measure aiming “to bring the closure of the PLO office represents an unprecedented step in the history of US-Palestinian relations”.
He added that the development “represents a blow to peacemaking efforts, while rewarding Israel, which is working to obstruct US efforts by persisting with its policy of settlements and its refusal to accept the two-state solution”.
International Criminal Court
The NSC spokesman cited a “condition” introduced in US Congress in 2015 – the year in which the Palestinian Authority (PA) joined the ICC – “concerning certain Palestinian actions” related to the court, as one of the reasons behind the non-renewal.
The provision, which was enacted in 2015, imposes legal punishments on the PLO and the Washington office if it does not comply with the conditions outlined by Congress.
The provision includes ramifications against Palestine if the state takes “any actions with respect to the ICC that is intended to influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorised investigation or to actively support such an investigation that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians”.
It also promises consequences if Palestinians obtained full UN membership “or any specialised agency thereof” without “an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians”.
While Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute – the treaty of the ICC to which all members are bound to – its nationals could be tried by The Hague-based court for crimes committed on Palestinian territory.
The PA has previously submitted files of evidence to The Hague-based court of Israeli war crimes, but a preliminary examination is still ongoing.
In February, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said officials would take the issue of Israel’s illegal settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories to the ICC.
Since 1967, Israel’s government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli citizens into the occupied Palestinian territories. They live in illegal, fortified settlements – the largest of which houses some 64,000 Israelis – built on Palestinian land, often private property, seized by Israel.
Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman, reporting from Washington, DC, said the development came “at a very awkward time”.
“Jared Kushner, Trump’s chief negotiator and son-in law, and Jason Greenblatt, the US Middle East representative, have been shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem to try to work out what they have been advertising as a blueprint for a concrete plan that they will be unveiling early next year,” said Ackerman.
“The threat of disrupting all these negotiations, even the preliminary ones, seems to be a serious one,” he added.
“So the question is, is this a mixed message on the part of the Trump administration? Will they back off on the actual threat to close the PLO office, or is this just a pressure move to try to gain leverage?”