Senators on Trump admin’s PLO office decision

WASHINGTON — On November 17, the State Department threatened to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Washington DC office following statements by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas supporting the prosecution of Israelis at the International Criminal Court. However, the Trump administration reversed its decision on Friday and said that the Palestinians would be permitted to keep their diplomatic mission in Washington open to advance the peace process with Israel.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) told Jewish Insider on Monday evening, “I would be for closing it unless they change the so-called martyr’s payments and other things, but I would hope the reversal means that the administration’s getting something out of that, that heads us in a better direction.”

The State Department initially cited a 2015 Congressional law that conditioned the PLO office remaining open in Washington on Palestinian leaders not supporting an International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Israelis.

“I really would leave that to the President and Secretary of State. I wouldn’t get into anything that is more in their lanes,” explained Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). “We do have to make sure that when we move forward with a strategy, we kind of stick with it though.”

The backtracking towards the PLO diplomatic mission comes shortly before another critical decision by the Trump administration. On December 1, President Donald Trump has a deadline to decide whether to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem or sign an additional national security waiver to keep the facility in Tel Aviv.

On the other side of the aisle, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), explained: “There are ways that we have to make the Palestinians understand what they are doing is not helpful in the peace process, but on the other hand, it’s important that we keep the process moving so having an office here, I accept the administration’s determination that it should remain.”

Palestinian leaders have reacted furiously to the office’s potential closure. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator warned that Ramallah would sever all contacts with the Trump administration if Washington were to shutter the Palestinian diplomatic mission. In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a short statement saying they “respect the decision” while calling the move a “matter of US law.”

“There are a lot of things about the Palestinian Authority, its relationship with Hamas and how it conducts itself and who it supports that can subject it to criticism,” noted Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). “I think it is constructive for us to keep an open line of communication with the PA. It is also important that the Trump administration take a consistent view on things. I suspect sometimes that it confuses our allies when there are abrupt changes in policy like this.”

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