The Trump administration has put the Palestinians on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they’ve entered serious peace talks with Israel, U.S. officials said, potentially giving President Donald Trump more leverage as he seeks an elusive peace deal.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of an obscure provision in a U.S. law that says the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.
A State Department official said that in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas crossed that line by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.
The legal provision says that the U.S. can’t allow the Palestinians to have an office if they try to “influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorised investigation, or to actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”
90-day grace period
Mr. Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”. The official said it was unclear whether the U.S. might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.
Even if the office closes, the U.S. said it wasn’t cutting off relations with the Palestinians and was still focused on “a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians”.
The State Department official said in an e-mail that “this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts.”
Mr. Abbas said in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September that the Palestinians had “called on the ICC to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people”.
The President is allowed to waive the requirement only if he certifies to Congress “that the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”.