US U-turns on closing Palestinian office in Washington DC

The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization is seen above its offices in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization is seen above its offices in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
The move came a week after President Donald Trump’s administration said the PLO mission would have to shut down. An official denied that the US had been attempting to “leverage” the Palestinians in peace talks.

The Palestinian flag will continue to fly in Washington, DC after all. The US State Department announced on Friday that the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in the US capital can remain open in order to hold peace talks with Israel, adding that full operations could likely resume after 90 days.

The department’s announcement was an about-face move that reversed its warning last week that the PLO site in Washington would have to close its doors. The PLO office’s permit expired last Saturday at midnight. Under US law, permission to operate must be renewed every six months.

A State Department spokesperson said Friday that in the meantime the PLO delegation was advised “to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

After 90 days, if US President Donald Trump decides that the representatives of the Palestinian people are undertaking “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the office may be allowed to resume full operations.

The spokesperson added on Friday that both Israel and the PLO have been “cooperative, constructive, and prepared to engage in negotiations.” The department was “optimistic” that operational restrictions would be lifted in three months’ time.

The official, who spoke with news agency AFP on condition of anonymity, denied that last week’s decision to let the embassy’s permit expire had been an attempt to put pressure on Palestinians to settle the long-running conflict with Israel.

The US administration is pushing both Israelis and Palestinians to achieve an unprecedented peace deal and risks alienating either party if it is perceived to be too close to one or the other.

The administration announced last week that the PLO mission in Washington would have to shut its doors because the Palestinians had urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Israelis. PLO leaders reacted with anger, suspending all meetings with the US and threatening to cut all communication.

When asked how Trump could explain his decision to reverse the closure in an apparent reinterpretation of the Palestinian push before the ICC, State Department spokesperson Edgar Vasquez told news agency AP: “These actions are consistent with the president’s authorities to conduct the foreign relations of the United States.”

The announcement to reopen the PLO’s Washington office came one day before the 70th anniversary of the UN resolution that divided then-Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state with an international Jerusalem.

cmb/jm (AFP, AP), DW