JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday he was "deeply surprised" by a U.S. threat to close the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Washington unless it enters direct peace negotiations with Israel.
He said a U.S. decision not to recertify the office of the PLO, the main Palestinian negotiating body, later this month was an “unprecedented step” in the history of U.S.-Palestinian relations and has “dangerous consequences” for peace.
A State Department official said that the decision was taken due to “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC,” referring to the International Criminal Court. The office could be reopened if after 90 days President Trump determines the Palestinians have entered into “direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
Under conditions imposed by Congress, the PLO cannot operate a Washington office if it calls on the ICC to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Abbas called for ICC investigations into Israeli aggression.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have been tasked with laying the groundwork for the “deal of the century” in an effort to bring lasting peace to the region.
A closure of the PLO office should in no way be seen as a signal that the United States is backing off those efforts, the State Department official said.
“We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived,” the official added.
If the office is closed, the PLO will put on hold all communications with the U.S. administration, said the organization’s secretary general, Saeb Erekat. He said the PLO had been informed of the move in a letter.
“This is very unfortunate and unacceptable,” he said, blaming pressure on the U.S. administration from the Israeli government, an accusation the Israelis rejected.
“This is a matter of U.S. law,” said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. to advance peace and security in the region.”
Morello reported from Washington.