UPDATE – US shutters Palestine Liberation Organization's mission


By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Monday announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington diplomatic mission as the Donald Trump administration prepares to roll out its Middle East peace plan.

The State Department announced the decision, saying "the PLO office in Washington will close at this point." The office had served as Palestine's de facto embassy in Washington.

The department said "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," and pointed to Palestinian calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel as reasons for its decision.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"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," she added.

Mark Perry, a former unofficial advisor to late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, ripped Washington's announcement, saying "the U.S. has always been Israel's lawyer."

"Ironically, the announcement is actually good news — as it ends the pretense that the U.S. actually cares about peace in the Middle East," Perry told Anadolu Agency.

"The U.S. is now perfectly aligned with the Israeli national project. Israel does not now, and never has, believed in the peace process or sought reconciliation with the Palestinians," he said. "Rather, its goal is the destruction of the Palestinian national project. What changed today is that the U.S. has now joined that effort."

National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to address the decision during a speech before a conservative group in the nation's capital later Monday.

Palestinian officials continue to deny any role for the U.S. in peace talks with Israel after Trump unilaterally declared Jerusalem to be Israel's capital last year, upending long-held underpinnings of peace talks which had maintained the issue was to be determined as part of final status negotiations.

The decision provoked worldwide condemnation.

Prior to the formal announcement of the mission's closure, Palestinian officials described the move as “an escalation that will have serious political consequences by sabotaging the entire international system in order to protect the Israeli occupation and its crimes.”

“This is another blow by the Trump administration against peace and justice," said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.