Palestinians 'freeze' meetings with US over office row

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US says they hope to keep open PLO's Washington office

The Palestinian flag seen above the PLO offices in Washington, DC on 18 November (AFP)
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Last update: 
Tuesday 21 November 2017 23:26 UTC

The Palestinians have frozen all meetings with the United States after it decided to close their representative office in Washington, officials said on Tuesday.

"What is the use of holding any meetings with them when they close our office? Our meetings begin from our office, and the arrangements are there," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told AFP.

"In practice by closing the office they are freezing all meetings and we are making that official."

The United States said that they want the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to keep its Washington office open and is in talks with Palestinian officials about the issue despite a US decision that could trigger its closure, the State Department said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the matter was under discussion and that, as far as she knew, the office was up and running for now.

"We are in contact with the Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office. I don't want reporters to get ahead of themselves in reporting on this," she added, suggesting that talk of the office's closure might be premature. "We'd like for them to be able to keep it open."

A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) confirmed that it had received instructions from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "regarding closing down all communication lines with the Americans".

The PLO, which the international community sees as representing all Palestinians, must have its permission to operate premises in the US capital renewed by the State Department every six months. 

But last week the department refused to renew the permit.

US officials cited comments by Abbas about possibly taking Israel to the International Criminal Court.

In 2015, the US Congress introduced a provision that Palestinians may not try to wield influence over the ICC concerning investigations into Israelis.

The US consulate in Jerusalem declined to comment on Tuesday, instead referring back to a statement on Saturday which said it was hopeful that any "closure will be short-lived".

"We are not cutting off relations with the PLO," that statement said.

The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. 

US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether "the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel" - in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.