U.S. Says Palestinian Mission in Washington Will Remain Open for at Least 90 Days

Its activity will be limited to actions supporting renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace process ■ Abbas aide: PA ready for talks, but won't accept dictates agreed upon ahead of time by Israel, U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 20, 2017.
Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has decided that the Palestinian diplomatic delegation in Washington, D.C. will remain open for at least the next 90 days, but its activity will be limited to actions that support efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

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The decision was announced on Friday night, a week after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to the Palestinian leadership warning that the delegation might be shut down as a result of statements made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel and prosecute actions by Israelis.

The Palestinian diplomatic delegation in Washington, D.C.
Alex Brandon/AP

According to the State Department, the statements made by Abbas go against a U.S. law which stipulates that the Palestinian mission should be closed if the Palestinians try to take action against Israel at the ICC.

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An official in the State Department told Haaretz on Friday that the delegation will be open for at least 90 days, and at the end of that period, Trump could announce that he is prolonging its activity because it is vital for supporting "meaningful" Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This is in accordance with the U.S. law that describes the delegate's mandate.

The official added that "given the lapse last week of a waiver of statutory restrictions on PLO activity in the United States, we have advised the PLO Office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians."

According to the official, "the relevant statute provides that if, after 90 days, the President determines the Palestinians are engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel, restrictions on the PLO and its Washington Office may be lifted."

The official added that "the administration has been actively involved in efforts to restart substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and has thus far found both parties to be cooperative, constructive, and prepared to engage in negotiations.

We therefore are optimistic that at the end of this 90-day period, the political process may be sufficiently advanced that the President will be in a position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations."

Despite a number of press reports that suggested the contrary, the official insisted that "the lapse in the waiver was not intended to create 'leverage' with or impose pressure on the Palestinians, with whom we have been having constructive discussions about the path to a lasting, comprehensive peace."

Sources close to Abbas criticized the announcement on Saturday evening. According to the sources, the U.S. administration has submitted no document or initiative that the Palestinians can take seriously, even though it talks about the need to advance the peace process and wants the Palestinians to be part of the process.

“The Americans don’t have to pressure the Palestinians into entering negotiations, because the Palestinian leadership has already said yes to negotiations,” Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and an adviser to Abbas, told Haaretz.

Majdalani said that the Palestinian leadership is ready for negotiations but would not agree to accept dictates that were agreed upon ahead of time by Israel and the United States. He added that the Palestinians cannot, on the one hand, be asked not to promote action through the International Criminal Court and, on the other hand, not be able to move ahead on any real diplomatic channel.