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US asks Palestinian mission in Washington, DC, to close

Saul Loeb, AFP | The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017.

The US State Department confirmed Monday it was ordering the closure of the Washington mission of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), saying the Palestinians were not supporting peace talks with Israel.

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"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," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

"However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

The Trump administration notified the Palestinians last year it would shutter their office in Washington unless they enter serious peace talks with Israel.

"We have been officially informed that the US administration will close our embassy in Washington as a punishment for continuing to work with the International Criminal Court against Israeli war crimes," Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said earlier.

"This is yet another affirmation of the Trump administration's policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education," he said.

The move comes after several financial measures the Trump administration has taken toward the Palestinians.

The US has announced it is ending its decades of funding for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees, slashing bilateral US aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza and cutting funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.

A provision in a US law says the PLO mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.

>> Chief Palestinian negotiator: 'Trump is burying two-state solution'

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson said in November that the Palestinians crossed that line two months prior.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump's administration has been working to mediate a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.

Trump has promised to pursue the "ultimate deal" between the Palestinians and Israel. However, such a deal is unlikely given Palestinian mistrust of his administration.

The Palestinians were angered by Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the US embassy there. They have since rejected the US as a peace broker.

>> US embassy move makes Mideast peace 'mission impossible on steroids'

The Palestine Liberation Organization is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the US does not recognise Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained a "general delegation" office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the US government.

The United States allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994, a move that required then president Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn't have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the United States started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.

A history of the US Jerusalem Embassy Act

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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