The PLO mission in Washington should stay open


The Trump administration should reconsider its position on closing the Palestinian mission in Washington. According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki, the administration has begun to reconsider the move following warnings by the Palestinian Authority’s leadership that Ramallah would cut its ties with Washington. To shut the office could derail President Trump’s own bid to broker a Middle East peace deal, one which many times he has said he wants to make. And the PLO, which represents all Palestinians, maintains the office specifically to continue talks with the US over a peace agreement. It, therefore, makes perfect sense to keep the mission open.

To keep the mission working, the US administration is demanding that the PLO does two things: stop calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Israel for war crimes against the Palestinians. And for the Palestinians to get serious about peace talks, in other words, engage in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”.

Concerning the first demand, the Palestinians should not let go of their rights. The Palestinians entered the ICC in 2015, finally being afforded the opportunity to prosecute Israelis for war crimes, to bring accountability to Israel after years of no culpability. Why should the Palestinians suddenly drop what they have fought so hard to get? Furthermore, it’s hard to understand why the US administration has rushed to Israel’s defense against Palestinians demanding that Israeli officials be prosecuted in the ICC if successive Israeli governments have claimed that all their activities in the territories have not violated any laws. Anything that Israel did and does in the territory is, in its view, perfectly legal. So why the anger from the US administration and Congress when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN in September of his demand that the ICC in The Hague investigate Israel’s activities in the occupied territories? Why did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warn on Nov. 17 that unless Abbas withdraws his demand, the administration would have to close the mission of the PLO in Washington? Why is America so nervous if Israel has done nothing wrong?

As to the administration’s second demand, Palestinians and Israelis are not currently engaged in direct negotiations, so how are the Palestinians supposed to engage in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”? What constitutes meaningful negotiations anyway?

It is true that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the senior aide charged with negotiations on Middle East peace, have been working to broker a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis. This month, in fact, the White House said officials are preparing a peace proposal that they intend to put forward at an unspecified time. Kushner and Greenblatt have been shuttling to the Middle East to meet with Palestinians, Israelis and Arab nations in hopes of securing a deal, but they have provided no details about the proposal, and direct talks have not started, so it would be disingenuous to blame the Palestinians for something that does not yet exist.

President Clinton allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994. President Obama allowed the Palestinians to fly the flag over their office in 2011. President Trump could keep the flag flying merely by certifying that waiving the ban on Palestinian representation was in the US national interest.

Under US law the president has 90 days to determine whether the Palestinians are engaging in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”. If he determines they are, the mission can stay open.

Ever since Trump took office, the PA has publicly supported his renewed efforts to broker peace. If the administration moves to close the PLO mission in Washington, the decision will produce skepticism among Palestinians of America’s intentions toward them, a perception the administration would surely want to avoid.