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Palestinians threaten to cut ties with US if PLO office is shut

Backlash to warnings issued by US after Palestinian President Abbas threatens to take action against Israel at ICC
PA said it would not give in to 'extortion' over its diplomatic mission in Washington and peace process (AFP)

The Palestinians will freeze their ties with the US if it follows through on a threat to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation's office in Washington, a senior PLO official warned on Saturday.

The surprise American move and Palestinian backlash came as US President Donald Trump seeks bargaining chips in his bid to broker an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Trump has a 90-day window to avert the closure if he deems progress has been made.

But PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said his organisation had officially informed Washington that "we would put on hold all our communications with this American administration" if the office were closed.

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

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said it was the first time since the 1980s that the State Department had refused to renew it.

Malki told the AFP that Palestinian officials had received a letter from Washington two days ago "saying that the secretary of state had not found enough reasons to keep the office open".

The threat comes on the back of calls by Tel Aviv in September to shut down the PLO general delegation to the US. 

Tillerson issues warning

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued the warning after PA President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel and take actions against Israelis, according to a report by the Associated Press. 

Tillerson said that statements by Abbas to take action against Israel at the ICC went against US law.

The report by AP outlined however that this was not an immediate threat, and that the Americans were still engaging with the PA in the hope of renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

The reports were confirmed by a State Department Official who told Haaretz on Friday that it was not "cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority". 

The US State Official added: "In December 2015, Congress introduced a new condition concerning certain Palestinian actions related to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The most recent certification period ended in November. We were unable to make a new certification, and have notified the PLO accordingly."

On Saturday, the PA's Maliki said that the threats from Washington were an attempt to exert political pressure and attempt to create uncertainty among the Palestinian leadership.

Maliki added that the Palestinian Authority would not give in to "extortion" concerning its diplomatic mission in Washington or the peace process with Israel. 

He said instead that a decision on the mission should be made in consultation between the State Department and the White House.

The PLO has operated in Washington DC since 1993. Like other US administrations, Trump's office has kept in close contact with ambassador Hosam Zomlot, who heads the Washington mission and is a close adviser to Abbas. 

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