Shutting PLO office in DC could shut down Kushner-Greenblatt peace effort, Palestinian official warns

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The fate of a tiny office tucked between restaurants and shops in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood could have major repercussions for Palestinian-American relations. Inside of the brick-building is the headquarters for the Palestinian leadership’s official U.S. team, the PLO Mission.

Last weekend Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to the Mission explaining that its ambassador and his slim staff had 90 days to shut down.

The letter followed restrictions on the Palestinians that Congress passed last year. Under the new terms, the office needs President Trump’s signature on a waiver every six months to override a 1987 law that calls the PLO a “terrorist organization.” The law makes it illegal for the Palestinians to conduct affairs in the U.S.

Trump signed the first waiver in the Spring, regarded at the time as a mere formality. But on November 17, 2017, he let the PLO’s operating credentials expire. (Much as Trump initially certified the Iran deal, and then decertified it this fall.) The day after, Tillerson put the PLO on notice.

“The result was the automatic triggering of the applicability of the law,” Nasser al-Qudwa, spokesperson for the ruling Palestinian party Fatah, said in the first lengthy statement issued to press from a Palestinian official since news broke of the closure. “I think both, the Palestinian side and the American administration, found themselves in a very difficult situation: what to do about this?”

“This is not to absolve the administration from responsibility,” he continued. “Absolutely not; actually it’s the opposite.”

Any attempt by the Trump administration to broker peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians could collapse if the office is indeed closed down, al-Qudwa explained. This follows several trips to the region by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an effort to restart peace talks.

“[I]f we don’t find a different situation altogether for the functioning of the office, then it’s only natural that the bilateral work between the two sides will be affected. I don’t know to what extent exactly and I think it’s not decided yet. But there will be a serious repercussion – no doubt,” he said.

As to who is behind the closure, Al-Qudwa blamed both the White House and Congress for acquiescing to Israeli interest to undermine the PLO’s diplomatic front.

“The main problem we’re facing in the U.S. is Congress,” al-Qudwa continued. “It allowed itself to involve into a process of legislation in service of the Israeli interest. Thus creating a web of laws that are hostile to the Palestinian people, national interests, and by necessity to the PLO.”

“I doubt that the American people do understand this kind of situation: that their representatives spend quite good amount of time figuring out how to serve the strategic and tactical interests of Israel – and incorporating this into the law,” al-Qudwa’s statement said.

James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, said in a conference call to reporters yesterday that Congress was persuaded last year to add in the waiver requirement by the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.

“Dermer was very active in pressing Congress to push this agenda forward,” Zogby said. Israeli officials were thereby hoping to sandbag Palestinian national aspirations, i.e. the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiations, by outlawing its leaders.

“There are Israelis who want to push us back to the pre-Oslo period where the PLO was banned,” Zogby added.

Zogby later told Mondoweiss, “It’s clear where the pressure came from, it was coming from Congress. There will be some options here, but the question is how the administration will get themselves out of this box.”

On Tuesday the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert created a cloud of confusion around if and when the Mission is closing when she walked back Tillerson’s notice to shut. “[T]here’s not a ton of information because some decisions are still in the process of being made right now,” she opened.

“Shutting down an office – that’s not what we are talking about today. There are some conversations underway,” Nauert said, adding that the State Department does not want the PLO to be kicked out of DC, despite the order, “I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open.”

The PLO Mission in DC’s ambassador, Husam Zomlot, was called for comment but did not respond.

The Mission is not a Consulate, and its staff enjoys no diplomatic immunity. Its mandate is extremely limited, offering services to Palestinian ID holders residing in the U.S. and accepting paperwork for land sales.

“[I]t’s not allowed to pretend/ claim that it’s functioning on behalf of the Palestinian State/ State of Palestine – or even use the word Palestine for that matter,” al-Qudwa explained in his briefing. 

In Ramallah, a senior PLO Official told Mondoweiss under guarantees of anonymity that the office has “received instructions to halt contact” with the U.S. The official explained that the PLO theorized the State Department is “playing” with legalities to close the PLO office as a way to “put pressure on us.”

Seemingly, the Palestinians do not have much to go on about what actions they can take to placate the Trump administration into reversing the closure. Al-Qudwa aptly noted, there are no negotiations with Israel on the table that they can agree to; Trump’s team has not presented the Palestinians with any plan or action to sign onto.

The little that is known about why Trump refused to sign the waiver is from Tillerson’s letter. He referenced a speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the United Nations General Assembly raising the possibility of taking Israel to the The Hague on war crimes charges. Even so, the senior Palestinian official who spoke to Mondoweiss said, “But we always call upon the ICC to take action, this is not something new.” He concluded that the timing of the U.S.’s move is proof of the political blackmail at work.

“Going to the ICC is a right, but it seems the U.S. administration is more focused in punishing those who want to access justice while rewarding those committing violations and war crimes. Impunity will never be a tool to achieve a just and lasting peace,” the official continued.

“Frankly my advice to them is whether the U.S. closes their office or not, they are to proceed with their case full speed ahead,” Zogby said yesterday, relating that he already offered to share his work space with the PLO should Tillerson move forward to close the PLO office. “I would encourage the Palestinians to continue to pursue their case and let the international criminal court decide.”

“I think we need a public manifestation of support for them. Can we get Congress to undo the 1984 law?” Zogby speculated. “We’re pleading to the court of public opinion here.”

Some analysts have championed the potential PLO Mission closure as an overdue measure. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, the most prominent of the supporters, described the PLO as off on a “long vacation from accountability” in an op-ed yesterday, citing among other offenses, the PLO’s support for boycotting Israel.

“The PLO consulate in Chicago is a major funder of the BDS campus group Students for Justice in Palestine,” Glick enumerated in her charge sheet. However, there is not now nor ever was a PLO Consulate or office in Chicago, and Mondoweiss found the alleged donor is a lawyer and public notary authorized to witness Palestinian legal affairs and is not an employee of the PLO.

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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9 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    November 24, 2017, 12:17 pm

    Yes, full court press at ICC and forget about “peace processing” (or is that “precessing”, or “nutation”, a sort of wobbly circular motion which tops display but which ends up getting the top nowhere).

    At all events, “peace processing:” has been shewn by years of experience to be going no-where without outside pressure on Isrfael. BDS is one form of pressure. ICC could be another.

  2. JosephA
    November 24, 2017, 9:08 pm

    This is a farce. The US government doesn’t want peace any more than right wing (racist) Israelis would.

  3. Misterioso
    November 25, 2017, 12:05 pm

    http://time.com/5036837/us-plo-office-staying-open/?xid=homepage

    “U.S. Allows Washington PLO Office to Remain Open”

    By Josh Lederman / AP 7:54 AM EST, Nov. 25/17

    EXCERPT:

    (WASHINGTON) — “The Trump administration has backtracked on its decision to order the Palestinians’ office in Washington to close, instead saying it would merely impose limitations on the office that it expected would be lifted after 90 days.”

  4. Ronald Johnson
    November 25, 2017, 12:54 pm

    How could it be that a nation of 350 million got sold on Zionism?

    If you wonder how a major component of the US Electorate could be indoctrinated to Zionism, it is profitable to study the work of Louis Untermeyer and others of the “Lotos”, or “Lotus Club” in Manhattan, circa 1917. Cyrus Scofield, a preacher of questionable character, was given room and board and grants to compile the Scofield Reference Bible, whose subsequent editions pushed the Bible into a Zionist current through the use of directive footnotes:

    https://www.wrmea.org/2015-october/the-scofield-bible-the-book-that-made-zionists-of-americas-evangelical-christians.html

    Today, we have people of the staff of The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, posing as a learned faculty, touring the country giving lectures to Christian Fundamentalist associations. One such event occurred in Orchard Park NY last March.

    So, CAMERA is not only about being a press watchdog, but is into Biblical exegesis:

    http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/northamptonseminar/files/2017/03/CAMERA-SEMINAR-BROCHURE-8.5-x-11-FOLDED_FINAL-V8-HR.pdf

    Bear in mind that the American Christian support for Zionism came with much expense and effort.

  5. Ossinev
    November 25, 2017, 1:43 pm

    Sooner the better. It will further hasten the end of the Vichy Abbas regime and the ongoing farce of ” peace negotiations” and “the two state solution”. One state , initially an Apartheid State and then eventually one state with equal rights for all. And hey presto a sudden change in the demographics with no new Brooklyn Jews arriving and lots of Brooklyn Jews leaving disgusted at the mere thought of being treated as equal to filthy Arabs and no longer being able to swan around with their little Glocks and doing their John Wayne impressions. Just a question of time.

    Tick tick.

  6. Misterioso
    November 25, 2017, 2:05 pm

    Also:

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/legal-challenge-uk-press-over-grossly-misreported-palestine-meeting?utm_source=EI+readers&utm_campaign=a1a0cece04-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e802a7602d-a1a0cece04-290675021

    The Electronic Intifada

    “Legal challenge to UK press over ‘grossly misreported’ Palestine meeting.”

    By Asa Winstanley Media Watch 24 November 2017

    “The launch of the Balfour Apology Campaign last year was marred by press misreporting.”

    EXCERPT:

    “Campaigners on Friday unveiled a legal challenge to the British print media’s self-regulating body over inaccurate coverage of a Palestinian meeting in Parliament last year.

    “Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine activist Jonathan Coulter is attempting to crowdfund initial legal costs of about $27,000.”

  7. James Canning
    November 25, 2017, 4:46 pm

    Closing PLO office in Washington would be exceptionally stupid.

  8. echinococcus
    November 26, 2017, 2:11 am

    Canning:

    Closing PLO office in Washington would be exceptionally stupid.

    So it would be, no doubt, on the part of the Palestinian puppet “administration”. If the US Gov did it, though, it would make no difference at all: the US is not allowed by the Zionists to communicate directly with any Palestinians.

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