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U.S. cites lack of peace talks in shutting Palestinian mission

AFP-Jiji WASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — The United States announced Monday it will shutter the Palestinians’ mission in Washington, accusing them of rebuffing peace talks with Israel.

The State Department said the Palestinians had refused to engage with either the United States or Israel and rejected outright a still unseen U.S. peace plan.

But an official of the Palestinian Liberation Organization said they were being blackmailed by a White House blatantly biased in favor of Israel and called the move a “dangerous escalation” of tensions in the region.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the Washington mission had been allowed to remain open on a special waiver since last November in order to foster work on achieving “a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.”

“However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” Nauert said in a statement.

She also cited a move by the Palestinians to have Israeli officials prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which the State Department says violates official conditions for the mission’s existence.

Nauert denied the United States was retreating from peace efforts.

“The United States 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,” she said.

It was the latest move by U.S. President Donald Trump to push the Palestinians into talks, as his son-in-law Jared Kushner promises a master plan for peace.

In recent weeks, the United States cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians and canceled its support for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinians accused the Trump administration of being one-sided.

They cut off contact with the U.S. administration after Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

“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,” PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO mission in Washington, called the closure of the office “bullying and blackmailing” and said the U.S. government was “blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list.’”

“The main part of it is just going ahead and implementing the grocery list that was submitted to them by [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”Speech

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