WASHINGTON – The Trump administration put the Palestinians on notice Friday that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they’ve entered serious peace talks with Israel, U.S. officials said, potentially giving President Donald Trump more leverage as he seeks an elusive Mideast peace deal.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of an obscure provision in a U.S. law that says the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians. A State Department official said that in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas crossed that line by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.
But the law leaves the president a way out, so Tillerson’s declaration doesn’t necessarily mean the office will close.
Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, the Palestinians can keep the office. The official said it was unclear whether the U.S. might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.
Even if the office closes, the U.S. said it wasn’t cutting off relations with the Palestinians and was still focused on “a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The State Department official said in an email that “this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts.” The official wasn’t authorized to be identified by name and requested anonymity.