World News

Palestinians freeze communications with Trump administration

Posted November 21, 2017 10:38 a.m. EST

— The Palestinian leadership has frozen communications with the Trump administration following the White House's threat to close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington.

Ashraf Khatib, a spokesman for the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, confirmed the move to CNN on Tuesday.

The decision comes after the Trump administration threatened to shut down the PLO office last week, citing a rarely invoked 2015 law saying that if the Palestinians move against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the US can close the PLO's base in the US capital.

The US believes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ran afoul of the law in September when he called on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes against the Palestinians.

According to the law, President Donald Trump can waive the closure if the Palestinians are involved in "direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

The threat to close the office could be a point of leverage for the US, as the Trump administration seeks to engage the Palestinians in peace talks with Israel.

But speaking to CNN, Khatib questioned the "credibility of the American administration" as it pursues a regional peace deal.

"We are actually wondering how can we still talk to the American side while our offices in Washington are closed," Khatib said.

The instructions to freeze communications came from Abbas, Khatib said.

The US State Department told CNN that it was looking into the matter but had no further comment t that time.

US does not recognize Palestinian statehood

While the United States does not recognize statehood for the Palestinians, President Bill Clinton waived a 1980s-era law that barred them from having an office and allowed the PLO, which formally represents all Palestinians, to open a mission in Washington in 1994. President Obama allowed the Palestinians to fly their flag over that office, upgrading the status of their mission, in 2011.

Congress added a provision to the law in 2015 requiring the shuttering of the mission if the Palestinians seek to "influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorized investigation, or to actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians."

Before the change to the law, the president could keep the PLO mission open merely by certifying that waiving the ban on Palestinian representation in the United States was in the US national interest. The most recent certification period ended in November.

There is a 90-day period for Trump to consider whether the Palestinians are engaged in "direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel" before any decision is taken.