On Sept. 10, the U.S. Department of State announced it would close the office of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. This local development fits into the larger context of the Trump administration’s efforts to bring the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the negotiating table for a peace deal with Israel.
While the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, following the Oslo Accords President Bill Clinton waived a law that previously kept Palestinians from having a “general delegation” office (similar to a consulate) in DC. Since then, the office facilitated Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government, organized events on the Hill for lawmakers and foreign dignitaries, and offered consular services for Palestinian citizens.
“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 Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert in a Sept. 10 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.”
The Palestinian delegation and the Trump administration last publicly tangled in December 2017: Following President Donald Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and confirmation of the plan to move the embassy, the delegation cancelled its annual “A Bethlehem Christmas on the Hill” event.
The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Expatriates condemned the closure. A statement in Arabic posted on its website characterized the move as “part of the open war launched by the American administration and its team on the Palestinian people and its just and legitimate rights.” It also cited Nauert’s expressed concern about the PA’s requests for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for war crimes as “new evidence of the involvement of the U.S. administration and its elements in covering the crimes of occupation and its grave violations of international law, international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Conventions.”
“The Trump policy of intimidation against our people will not deter us from continuing the legitimate political and diplomatic efforts to bring down the so-called ‘Deal of the Century,’” the statement said, expressing commitment to “a just peace” based on international legitimacy and resolutions in accordance with the principle of a two-state solution.
Trump: “I Think It’s Disrespectful When People Don’t Come to the Table.”
In a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with rabbis and leaders of the American Jewish community Sept. 6, Trump touched upon a lot more than just new year’s wishes: He talked about about Jerusalem and the embassy move, and the U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC); he offered insight into the rationale behind fiscal decisions like the administration’s denial of more than $200 million earmarked in the 2017 budget as aid to the PA and withdrawal of financial support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA); and he talked about the peace deal he hopes his team will broker.
Trump told listeners on the phone call he’d never received so many concerned phone calls from foreign leaders as he did in the two weeks leading up to his announcement officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the embassy. It reached the point, he said, that he instructed staff to tell callers to “call back after Monday,” when the announcement would already be out.
According to Trump, previous peace negotiations “would normally end very quickly” because moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a terminally problematic first talking point.
Israel in turn will have to “do something good for the Palestinians” — “What is it going to be? I can’t tell you,” Trump said — but he expressed confidence that “taking [Jerusalem] off the table” and withholding aid to the Palestinian Authority will ultimately bring a deal closer.
Regarding the idea of witholding aid to the PA, Trump said he asked past negotiators if they ever used “the money angle” and they responded that they thought it would be disrespectful.
“I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all,” Trump shared. “I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table.”
Greenblatt: Don’t Judge the Plan Until You’ve Read It
On Sept. 13, Jason Greenblatt — assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations — took to Twitter to discredit reporting by Israeli news outlet Globes that Trump was offering the PA $5 billion to return to the negotiating table.
“When the peace plan is released, if the PA is serious about peace & wants to improve Palestinian lives, the PA should want to review the plan & engage. It is an absurd idea to pay $5b for a party to ‘return to the negotiating table.’ How would that accomplish peace??” Greenblatt tweeted.
Greenblatt was on a media blitz recently regarding the peace plan and the administration’s vision for the region. This included a Rosh Hashanah op-ed and a long Q&A published by major Jewish newswire services, as well as interviews with Reuters, CNN, and other outlets.
While Greenblatt did not share specific details of the plan in these interviews, he was willing to share a lot about what has gone into it. He cited “extensive consultation” with Israelis, Palestinians, and other regional stakeholders (although he did mention that Palestinian leadership is not speaking to his team since the Jerusalem announcement last year). He said there are economic and political components to the plan, in the hopes that a future Palestinian state can look to Israel as a model for how a small country can economically thrive and offer a future for its citizens. He didn't shy away from referencing the strong longstanding relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and that Israeli security issues were given a high priority; but he emphasized that there are parts of the plan both sides will like and dislike, and that the administration’s goal is to present a plan that gives both sides a way forward to a sustainable, better future.
“The advice that I would give everybody, Israelis, Palestinians, everybody else who is interested in the file — is wait until the plan is released, and when it’s released, please read it cover to cover to judge the plan on its merits — not on rumors, not on speculation, not on news reports, but on what’s in it,” said Greenblatt.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.