President Abbas Orders to Freeze Contacts With Washington Over Threat to Close Palestinians' D.C. Office

Contacts with the Americans are only being conducted by lower level officials. A visit by U.S. Vice President Pence hasn't been called off.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered Tuesday to freeze contacts with the United States in response to the Trump administration’s threat to shut down the Palestinian mission. The Trump administration notified the Palestinian Authority that unless it enters serious peace negotiations with Israel, the U.S. could shut down the Palestinian diplomatic delegation in Washington, D.C. within the next few months. 

At this point, Abbas’ order appears to be more of a threat than a promise, but it is yet another sign of the mounting tension between the Palestinian Authority and the White House. The U.S. administration commented that talks with the Palestinians about their diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C. are continuing. 
Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Abbas who is accompanying him on an official visit to Madrid, said this will be a decisive period in relations between the United States and Palestinians. He said Abbas’ order is a direct response to recent measures by the United States. Despite the challenges involved, the Palestinians will remain faithful to their own national interests, he said.
Although Abbas’ instructions are being carried out by senior diplomats, day-to-day contacts and consultations with the Americans conducted by lower level officials will not cease, a senior Palestinian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is slated to visit Bethlehem in December. At this stage, the visit hasn’t been canceled.
While Abbas ordered a halt to contacts with the Trump administration, this does not mean that if senior American officials initiate a phone call with senior Palestinian officials they will refuse to accept the call, said the senior official.
“What is important for the Palestinians is to pass on the message and a clear position to the [U.S.] administration and not to cut of relations just to cut off relations. We also must not forget the balance of power in this case when we are talking about a superpower such as the United States,” he added.
That said, the Palestinians describe the Trump administration's hardline position as unprecedented and blamed them for creating a crisis of a magnitude that has not been seen in years.
"In meetings with President Trump, Abu Mazen [Abbas] received very reassuring messages. On the other hand, we are dealing with the type of move that casts doubt on the entire relationship. The question is how does the White House explains this gap between the messages of the president on the one hand and those of his administration on the other," another senior Palestinian official said, also on condition of anonymity.
The order allowing the PLO mission in Washington to remain open must be renewed every six months due the fact that the PLO is listed as a terror organization in the United States. According to the Palestinian official, the Palestinian Authority demands that the United States stop defining the PLO as a terror organization, and allow the offices to remain open without the need for the approval. “We need to bring this issue to an end once and for all because this is a decision that harms the entire Palestinian people,” he added. 
The U.S. State Department could act to close the mission through the same 1994 law that led to its establishment, which states that the mission will be closed if the Palestinians act against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told Voice of Palestine radio that the Trump administration was reconsidering its position on closing the Palestinian mission in Washington because of the Palestinian Authority's threats to freeze relations.

Amir Tibon

Haaretz Correspondent

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President Abbas Orders to Freeze Contacts With Washington Over Threat to Close Palestinians D.C. Office

Tags: #I.O.F., #Palestinian Autority, #IsraelLobby

Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives.

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