The Palestinian envoy to Washington said Tuesday his staffers have been given a month to pack up after the Trump administration ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization mission closed.
Husam Zomlot, until recently posted to DC as the Palestinian envoy, told The Associated Press the closure would not deter Palestinians from seeking a state with east Jerusalem as the capital.
“We lost the US administration but we gained our national rights,” said Zomlot, who was recalled back to Ramallah in the spring amid tensions between Washington and the Palestinian leadership.
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.”
She said “the United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward… This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Nauert added that the closure decision was consistent with US concerns about Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.
Israel welcomed the move, with the Prime Minister’s Office saying “The Palestinian’s appeal to the ICC and their rejection of negotiations with Israel and the US are not the way to achieve peace, and it is good that the US is taking a clear stance in the matter.”
The announcement came as US anger grows over Palestinian resistance to its peace overtures and calls by the Palestinian Authority for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel.
The spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the Ramallah government would maintain its “commitment to the resolutions of international legitimacy” despite the US move.
According to a written statement released on Monday, Rudeineh said core issues of the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, “are more important than the relationship with the United States.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, slammed the planned move as “extremely cruel” and “spiteful.”
The move came after three consecutive weeks of announced US funding cuts to the Palestinians and on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s remarks that he’ll only resume financial support if the Palestinians agree to a peace deal with Israel.
The PA has boycotted the Trump administration and rebuffed its peace efforts since the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December of last year. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.
Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton Bolton said the State Department’s decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington reflected “congressional concern with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.”
In May, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the White House was weighing closing the PLO mission after the PA’s foreign minister submitted a “referral” to the ICC calling for an investigation of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and the violent clashes on the Gaza border.
In mid-November, the US State Department informed PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki that the PLO office in DC would be closed because the Palestinians had violated a 2015 US Congressional mandate.
At the time, a US State Department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court as a violation.
In a 2017 address to the United Nations General Assembly, PA President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to violate US law, saying, “We have also called on the International Criminal Court, as is our right, to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials” over Israeli settlement activity, he said.
Jerusalem has long argued that the ICC has no jurisdiction over matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it has no jurisdiction over Israel (which is not a member state) and because Palestine is not a state and therefore cannot exercise jurisdiction over the West Bank.