APN to Trump: Don't Close Palestinian US Mission

Alarmed by the prospects of the Trump administration ordering the closure of the Palestinian mission in Washington, Americans for Peace Now (APN) is calling on the administration and Congress to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to keep its office open.

The ostensible reason for the Trump administration threat to shutter the PLO delegation office is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for the International Criminal Court to open an investigation against Israeli officials for settlement activity. In 2015, the US Congress quietly included a stipulation in its appropriations legislation requiring the State Department to certify that the Palestinian leadership is not pursuing ICC proceedings against Israel and has not obtained full membership status in any United Nations agency outside a negotiated agreement with Israel. According to this law, decertification by the administration would result in the closure of the PLO office in Washington. After a 90-day period, the office may reopen but only if the State Department certifies that the Palestinians have entered into “direct and meaningful negotiation with Israel.”

Indeed, the administration is reportedly pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter such negotiations as a way to keep the PLO mission open. This puts the Palestinian leadership, which has committed itself to diplomatic negotiations with Israel, in an absurd bind. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is showing no interest in negotiations and the Trump administration has not yet released its long-promised peace plan. Without an official mission in Washington, the PLO would be hamstrung in its pursuit of peace if and when the Trump administration gets serious about pursuing what President Trump has depicted as the “ultimate deal.”

APN’s President and CEO Debra DeLee said: “We are aware of the legal quandary facing the administration due to an unreasonable set of conditions that Congress posed for allowing the Palestinian mission to operate. We believe the administration and Congress can find a way around these conditions to advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Pursuing peace means using diplomatic tools. The PLO under Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have committed to diplomacy. They are paying a heavy price among the Palestinian public for this principled policy, which has stalled in bringing about tangible benefits for most Palestinians. Shutting the doors of the Palestinian mission to Washington would further discredit diplomacy in the eyes of Palestinians, disempower their pragmatic leaders, strengthen the violent extremists, and deal Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts a severe blow. As the Trump negotiating team prepares to unveil its peace plan, the timing could not be worse.”

For details on the evolution of the legal bind in which Congress has placed the PLO, see the timeline created by Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former Director of Policy and Government Relations at APN.