The Trump administration has quietly reversed its decision to close the PLO office in Washington over a courts issue, amid concerns the move would jeopardize President Trump’s larger, ambitious effort to achieve Middle East peace.
Last week, U.S. officials said the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in the nation’s capital must close, in accordance with a U.S. law related to the Palestinians having tried to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis.
Then officials abruptly reversed course late Friday, as many Americans were enjoying a long Thanksgiving Day weekend.
State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said the U.S. had instead “advised the PLO Office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
He also said the restrictions will be lifted after 90 days if the U.S. determines the Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in serious peace talks.
After U.S. officials announced plans last week to close the mission, the Palestinians said the Trump administration was using “extortion” tactics, in an apparent attempt to force peace talks with Israel.
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.
And Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the administration’s decision “very unfortunate and unacceptable.”
Erekat also accused the administration of bowing to pressure from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And he said the Palestinians are “trying to cooperate to achieve the ultimate deal.”
A State Department official said at the time that 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.
Netanyahu’s office said at the time that the closure was a “matter of U.S. law.”
Trump has made brokering a long-sought Middle East peace 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 Nation’s meeting in New York.
Abbas reportedly in September called for ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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