The Palestinians on Saturday edged closer to a diplomatic standoff with the Trump administration, saying the U.S. is using “extortion” tactics by threatening to close their diplomatic mission in Washington.
The response follows the State Department saying Friday that the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington will close because the Palestinians have run afoul of a U.S. law by calling for Israelis to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told Palestine Radio that his people won’t cave to “extortion” and that they await further communication from the administration.
“The ball is now in the American court,” he said.
In addition, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said this weekend that the administration’s decision is “very unfortunate and unacceptable.”
Erekat also accused the administration of bowing to pressure from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while the Palestinians are “trying to cooperate to achieve the ultimate deal.”
Erekat said the Palestinians conveyed in a letter to the administration their intention to cut off talks if the office is closed.
Netanyahu’s office says the closure is a “matter of U.S. law.”
Trump has made brokering a long-sought Middle East peace deal a top priority, with senior White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner taking the lead.
The president has also sought to strengthen relations with Netanyahu, with whom former President Barack Obama had a weak relationship.
Still, Trump has also apparently tried to improve ties with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority.
The president talked to Abbas in September at a United Nations meeting in New York.
The State Department could not be reached Saturday for comment.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of an obscure provision in a U.S. law that states the PLO’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 Abbas crossed that line in September by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.
However, the official also said the administration is not severing relations with the PLO or the Palestinian Authority and that the closing of the mission should not be interpreted as the administration backing away from trying to reach a peace agreement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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