US may close PLO’s DC office over Abbas urging ICC to prosecute Israelis
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Tillerson says Palestinians breached Congressional mandate

US may close PLO’s DC office over Abbas urging ICC to prosecute Israelis

While saying it's putting Palestinians on notice in accordance with Congressional provision, Washington insists it's not 'backing off' its peace efforts

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a briefing at the State Department on August 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a briefing at the State Department on August 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to certify on Friday that the Palestinians are complying with a 2015 Congressional mandate, which induces penalties if the Palestinian Authority pursues the prosecution of Israelis at the International Criminal Court.

The specific penalization, according to a provision in a US law passed in December 2015, is the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the United States, located in Washington, DC.

“We were unable to make a new certification, and have notified the PLO accordingly,” a State Department official told The Times of Israel on Friday evening. “The secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC, did not permit him to make the factual certification required by the statute.”

But the law leaves the president a way out, so Tillerson’s declaration doesn’t necessarily mean the office will close.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

Donald Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, the Palestinians can keep the office. The official said it was unclear whether the US might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.

During his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, PA President Mahmoud Abbas urged the ICC to “open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20, 2017. (AP/Seth Wenig)

The State Department official said the US was “hopeful that this closure will be short-lived” and that it was “currently working through the modalities of this process.”

Trump has made it a signature priority of his to renew negotiations between the sides and reach a comprehensive peace deal.

The US official stressed that the move did not mean the administration was walking away from those attempts.

“This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts,” the official said. “Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement.”

“We are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority,” he continued. “Our relations with the PLO and PA extend well beyond contacts with the PLO office in Washington. We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.”

The PLO office in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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