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PLO presence in Washington threatened — Palestinians

Nov 18,2017 - Last updated at Nov 18,2017

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) — The US State Department has refused to renew operating permission for the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington for the first time since the 1980s, a Palestinian official said Saturday.

The PLO, which the international community sees as representing all Palestinians, must have its permission to operate its premises in the American capital renewed every six months.

“The Palestinian Authority received a letter from the State Department two days ago saying that the Secretary of State had not found enough reasons to keep the office open,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki told AFP.

“This has not happened in the past, and we have demanded clarifications from the State Department and the White House,” he said. “They told us that there would be a meeting of senior legal experts on Monday. Then they would give a clear answer.”

A US State Department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the reason behind the non-renewal.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest speech at the UN General Assembly, in which he suggested taking the issue of Israeli settlements to the ICC, may have been behind the US stance.

In 2015 Congress introduced a provision that Palestinians may not try to wield influence over the ICC concerning investigations into Israeli nationals.

The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel” — in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.

The notice comes as Trump seeks bargaining chips in his bid to broker the long out-of-reach Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

The official said Washington is hopeful any “closure will be short-lived”, emphasising that “we are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority”.

“This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts”.

The presence of the office is conditional on permission from the US Secretary of State, renewable every six months.

The latest six-month period finished two days ago.

“This is the first time since the 1980s that there has been a delay in signing the renewed permission so the office can stay open”, Malki said.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has written to the US administration calling the move “unacceptable, an escalatory step and a political decision that threatens to end the US role in the peace process”, Malki said.

He said the PA leadership would meet after Monday to discuss its response.

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