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Trump closes PLO office

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The Trump administration has informed the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that its office in Washington DC will be closed.

The State Department said the decision was the result of the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to participate in the US plan for Israeli-Palestinian talks, and their failure to “advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”. It also linked the decision to Palestinian attempts to “prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court”.

The Trump administration warned the PLO last November that closure of its US office should be expected unless its leadership in Ramallah agreed to direct negotiations with Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “The US 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.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian representative in Washington, told the Wall Street Journal that the closure is “making sure the US will never ever play the role of peacemaker”.

PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat described the move as a “punishment for continuing to work with the International Criminal Court against Israeli war crimes”. “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.

Last night Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US decision, saying that Israel supports actions that are “designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace”.

The Trump administration announced on Saturday that it was cutting $25m of aid to East Jerusalem hospitals and putting the money toward “high-priority projects elsewhere”. The move follows Trump’s decision to cut $200m in bilateral aid to the Palestinians and halt all US funding [$350m] to UNRWA, the UN agency that administers aid to Palestinian refugees.