Washington rebuffs Palestinians’ claim they’ve frozen communications
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'I think we'd like for them to be able to keep it open'

Washington rebuffs Palestinians’ claim they’ve frozen communications

‘In our view, communications are not frozen,’ State Department spokeswoman says, hours after Abbas orders closing down line with US

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017.  (AP/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday rebuffed the Palestinian Authority’s claim that it has frozen communications with the United States over Washington’s recent threat to shutter the Palestine Liberation Office’s DC office.

“In our view, communications are not frozen,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“Conversations will be taking place,” she went on. “We are in contact with Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office in Washington, as well as having conversations with them about our larger efforts on the part of a lasting and comprehensive peace process.”

A spokesman for the PLO confirmed that it had received instructions from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “regarding closing down all communication lines with the Americans.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told AFP on Tuesday that “by closing the office they are freezing all meetings and we are making that official.”

Over the weekend, the State Department informed Malki that the PLO’s DC office would be closed because the Palestinians had violated a US law that forbids their seeking to prosecute Israelis in the International Criminal Court.

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The infringement ostensibly came when Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly this September and urged the ICC to “open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

“The secretary took a very technical and very specific look at this and determined that it was not in compliance,” Nauert said Tuesday. She added that the State Department and White House were in “close consultation about this.”

US President 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 PLO can keep the office.

Since the announcement was made on Friday evening, it has been unclear what the status of the PLO’s DC office will be during that interim period, although it appears to be open and functioning as of now.

Nauert said of the Trump administration: “I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open.”

The developments come just as Trump’s diplomatic team is preparing to make larger moves toward renewing negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump has made reaching a comprehensive peace deal a signature priority of his administration.

Nauert stressed on Tuesday that the discussions that have been initiated as part of those efforts were still ongoing.

“These conversations are underway,” she said. “I saw some reports this morning that they are not. I can assure you that they are still underway. We are not giving up on the plan for peace. We are not doing that. You know how important that is to this administration.”

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