The Palestinians threatened on Saturday to cease communication with the United States if the White House closes its diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., lodging a potential thorn in President Trump's plans for Mideast peace.
The State Department says the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization must close under a little-known provision in U.S. law that forbids it from requesting Israelis be prosecuted for crimes against Palestinians. Trump may reverse the closure within 90 days if the Palestinians prove they are engaging in peace negotiations with the Israelis.
The Associated Press reports it is not "clear that the office would close or whether the Palestinians would have to clear out of the building entirely or just close it to the public."
In an interview on Palestine Radio on Saturday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said, "The Palestinian leadership will not accept any extortion or pressure" from the United States. Palestinian official Saeb Erekat says this move undermines efforts for peace and suggested the U.S. is succumbing to pressure from the Israeli government.
"This is a matter of U.S. law. We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. to advance peace and security in the region," the Israeli prime minister's office said in a statement.
The State Department says President Mahmoud Abbas crossed the line in September when he called on the International Criminal Court "to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people" in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
Though the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents all Palestinians, maintains an office in Washington, D.C., in order to continue talks with the U.S.
The U.S. is "disqualifying itself as a peace broker in the region," with this move, PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement. "Conditioning the renewal of the waiver on the Palestinians' sticking to 'direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel' is actually superfluous since negotiations are nonexistent, and the current U.S. administration has yet to present any kind of peace initiative."
It is true that the Israelis and Palestinians are not currently engaged in active talks, but President Trump has placed his son-in-law, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, at the helm of U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal.
The Palestinians opened their U.S. mission in 1994, and in 2011, President Barack Obama allowed their flag to fly over the office, according to the AP.
This move by the State Department will likely add to growing skepticism among the Palestinians that a U.S.-mediated deal with Israel will not be favorable to them.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced the U.S. will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations' chief cultural and educational agency, because of its anti-Israel bias. As NPR has reported, relations between the U.N. agency and the U.S. soured in 2011 when UNESCO voted to offer full membership to a state of Palestine. Israel vehemently opposes any Palestinian membership in U.N.-related organizations until the two sides reach peace.