Palestinians reject ‘extortion’ in face of US move to close PLO’s DC office

The Palestinians will not give in to “extortion” after a US threat to close their diplomatic mission in Washington, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister said Saturday.

In an interview on Palestine Radio, Riyad al-Malki said the Palestinians are waiting for further communication from the US government.

“The ball is now in the American court,” he said.

American officials, citing US law, said Friday that the Trump administration has put the Palestinians on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they enter serious peace talks with Israel. President Donald Trump has 90 days to make a decision.

Malki said the US move may be aimed at putting pressure on the Palestinians. “The Palestinian leadership will not accept any extortion or pressure,” he said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to certify on Friday that the Palestinians are complying with a 2015 Congressional mandate, which induces penalties if the PA pursues the prosecution of Israelis at the International Criminal Court.

The specific penalization, according to a provision in a US law passed in December 2015, is the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the United States, located in Washington, DC.

“We were unable to make a new certification, and have notified the PLO accordingly,” a State Department official told The Times of Israel on Friday evening. “The secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC, did not permit him to make the factual certification required by the statute.”

During his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, PA President Mahmoud Abbas urged the ICC to “open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

The law states that the US president can reverse the move if he determines that Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

President Donald Trump has made it a signature priority of his to renew negotiations between the sides and reach a comprehensive peace deal.

The US official stressed that the move did not mean the administration was walking away from those attempts.

“This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts,” the official said. “Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement.”

“We are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority,” he continued. “Our relations with the PLO and PA extend well beyond contacts with the PLO office in Washington. We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.”

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