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Trump admin closing Palestinian office in Washington

Monday, September 10, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington on Monday, citing the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them.

The State Department said the U.S. step — the latest in a series targeting the Palestinians — came after a review of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization centered on the fact that no “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” are underway despite previous warnings.

“To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

The Trump administration had told the Palestinians last November that closure could be expected unless they agreed to sit to down with the Israelis. The administration, however, has yet to release its own much-vaunted but largely unknown peace plan although it said it still intends to do so.

“The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward,” Nauert said in her statement. “This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”

She also said the closure decision was consistent with U.S. concerns about Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.

National Security Adviser John Bolton was expected to address Monday’s decision in a speech later in the day focused on U.S. policy toward the ICC.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the closure was “yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization, commonly known as the PLO, formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained in Washington a general delegation office that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government.