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State Department orders Palestinian de facto embassy closed to protest refusal to talk

President Donald Trump during a visit to the Western Wall May 22, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Matty Stern/Planet Pix/Zuma Press/TNS)

In the latest effort to pressure the Palestinians into long-stalled peace talks, the Trump administration announced Monday that it has ordered the closure of the office that serves as the Palestinian leadership’s de facto embassy in Washington.

The move comes days after the administration said it would cut off more than $300 million in funding for the United Nations agency that provides humanitarian assistance to more than 5 million Palestinians who have scattered across the Middle East since the creation of Israel.

The State Department blamed Palestinian leaders and their diplomats in Washington for the growing tensions, which have left the White House with nothing to show for months of diplomacy with Israel and the Gulf Arab states in an effort to forge what President Donald Trump once called the “ultimate deal.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” and should close its office in Washington, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

Nauert said closing the PLO office does not mean the Trump administration is “retreating” from efforts to establish “a lasting and comprehensive peace plan.” The effort has been led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, a former executive vice president at the Trump Organization.

Palestinian leaders have refused to meet with U.S. envoys since Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December and moved the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv, reversing decades of U.S. policy. The impasse has created growing frustration in the White House.

Palestinians claim part of the holy city as their capital of an eventual independent nation.

National security adviser John Bolton used a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative Washington think tank, to threaten to take action if the International Criminal Court attempts to act against the U.S. or Israel.

With demonstrators chanting outside, Bolton said the ICC, which prosecutes crimes against humanity such as genocide, was “ineffective … even dangerous.”

Palestinian officials have said they intend to take Israel to the ICC, which is based at The Hague, for what they see as war crimes in Israel’s attack on protesters in the Gaza Strip.

The Washington PLO office is allowed to operate only if the president signs a waiver every six months. The last waiver expired last November, and the office has functioned in limbo ever since.

“We are not surprised,” the Palestinian ambassador, Husam Zomlot, said Monday in a statement. “Such a reckless act confirms that the administration is blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list,’ which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the U.S.”

The Palestinians also have a delegation at the United Nations in New York, which in late 2012 upgraded Palestine to the status of “non-member observer state.” Around two-thirds of the U.N. members recognize the State of Palestine.

Zomlot was briefly recalled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem last year.

Last month, Zomlot condemned Trump’s decision to cut most aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA assists millions of registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The PLO office is a relatively small operation with limited functions, located in a red-brick building on Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington. It flies the red, black and green Palestinian flag.


© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.