TEL AVIV – The Palestinian envoy to Washington said that he and his staff have been ordered to pack up his office within the month following President Donald Trump’s decision to shutter the local Palestine Liberation Organization mission.
Husam Zomlot said that the move would not deter Palestinians from seeking statehood with east Jerusalem as their capital.
“We lost the U.S. administration but we gained our national rights,” Zomlot told the Associated Press.
Zomlot was recently recalled back to Ramallah amid a boycott of the U.S. by the Palestinian leadership.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday said the PLO office was being closed because the Palestinians were not showing a willingness to make peace.
“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” stated Nauert.
“However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. … To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”
She added, “The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward. … This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”
According to Nauert, the move was also in response to Palestinian attempts to urge the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate Israel.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, “The Palestinian’s appeal to the ICC and their rejection of negotiations with Israel and the U.S. are not the way to achieve peace, and it is good that the U.S. is taking a clear stance in the matter.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday hailed Trump for the decision to shutter the Washington PLO mission.
“The U.S. took the correct decision,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel supports these actions that are meant to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attacking Israel in international forums will not bring about peace.”
Deputy Minister Michael Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, also praised the move.
“With the closing of the PLO office in Washington, the American administration is not changing the rules of the game, but simply restoring them after years of neglect,” Oren said.
One example of this, Oren added, was the frequent violation by the Palestinians of the Oslo Accords article that bans them from seeking recognition of a Palestinian state outside negotiations with Israel.
“It should be noted that, in contrast to previous administrations that would reward the Palestinians for abandoning the negotiations with Israel, President Trump is forcing the Palestinians to pay a price,” Oren said. “As we have seen in the past — giving gifts to the Palestinians only keeps them away from the peace talks, and now the Americans are punishing them in order to make them return to the table.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said the PLO mission was only good at spreading hatred and incitement and made no effort to advance peace.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) called the measure a “New Year’s gift” to Israel and the Jewish people.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a notorious extremist, slammed the move as “extremely cruel” and “spiteful.”
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said it was “an act of revenge against the Palestinian people” by Trump.
PA officials reportedly said they would sever the last vestiges of ties with the U.S. over the move.
“Ties between the PA and Trump have deteriorated to so unprecedented a nadir” that the PA is considering cutting all remaining contacts, PA officials were quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 as saying.
“Trump has become an enemy of the Palestinian people and an enemy of peace,” the officials said according to a translation by the Times of Israel. “The American president is encouraging terror and extremism with his policies that could lead to violence in the region, which will explode in the faces of Israel and the U.S.”