RAMALLAH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Palestinian officials expressed surprise on Saturday at a U.S. decision to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington unless the group enters peace negotiations with Israel, and said they would not surrender to blackmail.
A U.S. State Department official said that under legislation passed by Congress, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not renew a certification that expired this month for the PLO office, “given certain statements made by the Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court.”
The law says the PLO, the main Palestinian umbrella political body, cannot operate a Washington office if it urges the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 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 State Department official added that restrictions on the PLO in the United States, including the operation of its Washington office, could be waived after 90 days if President Trump “determines the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
“We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties,” the State Department official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday: “This is a matter of U.S. law. We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. to advance peace and security in the region.”