Abbas Aide: Threat to Shut D.C. Mission Harms U.S. Status as Fair Israeli-Palestinian Mediator

The American warning to shutter the Palestinian mission in D.C. unless Ramallah enters negotiations with Israel is 'unprecedented,' Nabil Abu Rudeineh says

Trump and Abbas during the United Nations General Assembly, September 20, 2017, in New York.
Evan Vucci/AP

The American threat to shut down the Palestinian mission in Washington, D.C. is a "dangerous step" that shows the United States is losing its status as a fair mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday.

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The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has notified the Palestinian Authority that unless it enters serious peace negotiations with Israel, the U.S. could shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C. within the next few months.

The threat, which was relayed to the Palestinians by the U.S. State Department, "is a puzzling position of the administration," Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. "The Palestinian side has not received any document or idea from the United States for many months, despite the fact that many meetings have taken place with the administration."

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The move is "a dangerous threat," Abu Rudeineh said "that leads [to the conclusion that] the United States is losing its position as a negotiator" and that it was "withdrawing from its role as a sponsor of the diplomatic process for peace as promised by President Trump."

Abu Rudeineh said that warning issued by the U.S. administration was "unprecedented in the relationship between Washington and the Arab world," and that "it deals a blow to efforts to promote peace and a prize for Israel, which is trying to thwart American efforts by continuing to build in the settlements and opposing the two-state solution."

Tillerson told the Palestinians that the decision to issue the warning was reached following statements made by Abbas, who called on the International Criminal Court to investigate actions by Israel and to prosecute Israelis.

Abbas' statements, the State Department said, go against U.S. law, which stipulates that the Palestinian mission could be closed should the Palestinians try to take action against Israel at the ICC.

The report by the AP made it clear, however, that this was not an immediate threat, and that the United States was still engaging the Palestinians in the hopes of renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

A State Department official told Haaretz on Friday that the U.S. was "not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority. We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.

"This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts. Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement."

The State Department official said that the issue was mostly technical, stating that "under U.S. law, to waive statutory restrictions on the PLO and its Washington Office, the Secretary [Tillerson] must certify the PLO has complied with conditions imposed by Congress."

Earlier Saturday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that the threats from Washington were an attempt to exert political pressure and create uncertainty among the Palestinian leadership.

According to al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority would not give in to "extortion" regarding its diplomatic mission in Washington or the peace process with Israel. He said rather that a decision on the mission should be made in consultation between the State Department and the White House.

The PLO delegation has been operating in D.C. since 1994. The Trump administration, like previous Democratic and Republican administrations, has been in constant touch with the delegation, which is headed by Ambassador Hosam Zomlot, a close adviser to Abbas.