After US shuts PLO mission, Abbas said to mull severing last ties with Trump

PA leader may cut security links with DC, said furious with US president; Abbas officials said to describe Trump as ‘enemy of the Palestinian people,’ warn of explosion of violence

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority is considering cutting its last ties with the US government, including crucial security cooperation, after a series of steps by the Trump administration against the Palestinians, including shuttering the PLO office in Washington, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported Tuesday.

Officials close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas were quoted by Channel 10 saying that the American measures, which also included cutting aid to the UN refugee agency that deals with Palestinians and funding to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, could lead to an upsurge of violence in the region.

“Ties between the PA and Trump have deteriorated to so unprecedented a nadir” that Ramallah is considering severing all remaining contacts, the TV report said, quoting the PA officials.

“Trump has become an enemy of the Palestinian people and an enemy of peace,” the officials were quoted by Channel 10 as saying. “The American president is encouraging terror and extremism with his policies that could lead to violence in the region, which will explode in the faces of Israel and the US.”

The Trump administration has cut all aid to the Palestinians this year with the exception of some $42 million it gave them for ongoing security cooperation efforts.

Despite longstanding tensions with Israel, security coordination between the Palestinian security forces and the IDF in the West Bank is very close and a key component of the relationship between the two sides.

Palestinian Authority security forces touring Israeli-controlled Hebron in uniform on July 31, 2018. (Credit: Wafa)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday praised the Trump administration for its decision to shut the PLO mission.

“The US took the correct decision,” Netanyahu said in a statement at the end of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. “Israel supports these actions that are meant to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attacking Israel in international forums will not bring about peace.”

The Palestinians have been boycotting the Trump administration in anger after the US shifted course and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December and later moved their embassy there from Tel Aviv. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Despite this, Palestinian security officials have continued meetings with top CIA officials.

The officials also said that Abbas plans to launch a diplomatic broadside against Trump and is planning a harsh speech against him at the UN General Assembly later in the month, Channel 10 said. “He plans to call him some very undiplomatic things,” the TV report quoted PA officials saying.

Palestinian anger was intensified this week when the US announced its decision to shut the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington DC. Earlier Tuesday, the Palestinian envoy to Washington said his staffers have been given a month to pack up.

People are seen outside the Palestinian Liberation Organization Delegation office in Washington DC on September 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

The US State Department confirmed Monday it was ordering the closure of the Washington mission of the PLO, saying the Palestinians were not supporting peace talks with Israel.

“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

“However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel… To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

Saeb Erekat (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

“How can anyone of sane mind believe that these people can be honest brokers,” the senior PLO official Saeb Erekat said Tuesday, in the wake of the US move to shutter the PLO’s DC mission. “They are no longer partners on the peace process.”

The Israeli TV report added that the PA has come close to severing its relations with Egypt, because of Cairo’s ostensible close ties to the Trump administration and its role in trying to broker an Israel-Hamas truce regarding Gaza.

Also Tuesday the Palestinians denied a report in an Arabic news website Khaleej Online that the Trump administration was pushing an initiative to have Arab states grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees living in their countries.

“This report is totally false,” a Fatah Central Committee member and PLO Executive Committee member told the Times of Israel.

“We and the Arab states have not discussed naturalizing Palestinian refugees,” he said. “Every time I go to Lebanon, I meet with different religious leaders, politicians and others. The one thing they all agree on is that they oppose naturalizing Palestinian refugees.”

“Syrian officials also always tell us that they are against naturalizing Palestinian refugees,” he said.

The status of the Palestinian refugees was at the heart of the US decision to end funding for UNRWA.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Uniquely, UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand is an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israel argues that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Europe, Middle Eastern, and North African countries over the decades.

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