PLO office in Washington 'to remain open': US official

PLO office in Washington 'to remain open': US official

Donald Trump's administration has backtracked on a decision to close the Palestinian authority's office in Washington, saying it will instead impose restrictions.
3 min read
25 November, 2017
On 2011, the Obama administration allowed Palestinians to fly their flag over the office [AFP]
The Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington will remain open to discuss peace with Israel and may be able to resume full operations soon, the State Department said on Friday.

The PLO office will however have some limitations imposed on it that may be lifted after 90 days if the US finds that the Palestinians and Israelis have engaged in serious peace talks, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.

The US "advised the PLO Office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians".

The White House has been preparing a comprehensive peace plan to present to both sides in the coming months.

"We therefore are optimistic that at the end of this 90-day period, the political process may be sufficiently advanced that the president will be in a position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations," Vasquez said.

The announcement comes as a backtrack on a previous decision by Donald Trump's administration to close the PLO office.

Last week,  US officials said the diplomatic mission would have to close because of a law stipulating that Palestinian leaders must not call for Israelis to face international prosecution.

The order provoked outrage among the Palestinian leadership, who threatened to cut all ties to Trump's administration if the ban went ahead, a move that would doom his hopes to revive the peace process.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the US of bowing to pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's government "at a time when we are trying to cooperate to achieve the ultimate deal".

Under long-standing US law, permission for the PLO to maintain its mission in Washington must be renewed every six months.

The requirement to close the mission stems from a little-noticed provision in US law that says Washington cannot allow the Palestinians to have an office in the capital if they back the international court's move to investigate or prosecute Israeli nationals for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

In September, Palestinian leaders lobbied at the UN for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court, which US officials said was a breach of the terms of the arrangement.

The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians.

Although the US does not recognise Palestinian statehood, the PLO maintains a "general delegation" office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the US government.

The US allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994.

That required President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians could not have an office.

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the US allowed Palestinians to fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.

Agencies contributed to this report.