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U.S. may not close Palestinians' D.C. mission after all
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and Middle East peace envoy, left, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank in August.Osama Falah / Palestinian Press Office via Getty Images - file
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By Phil McCausland, Alex Johnson and Associated Press
The State Department said Friday that it was confident it won't have to follow through with its threat to close the Palestinians' office in Washington.
NBC News reported last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had determined that the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, had violated a provision of U.S. law that allowed the group to staff a mission to the United States as long as it didn't lobby the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis.
A State Department official said last week if President Donald Trump determines after 90 days that the Palestinians are "engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," the restrictions could be lifted.
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A spokesperson for the State Department told NBC News on Friday night that the Trump administration has "thus far found both parties to be cooperative, constructive and prepared to engage in negotiations."
"We therefore are optimistic that at the end of this 90-day period, the political process may be sufficiently advanced that the president will be in a position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations," said the spokesperson, who insisted that the threatened closing of the PLO mission wasn't intended to create leverage with the Palestinians.
The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the United States doesn't recognize Palestinian statehood, the organization maintains a "general delegation" office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the U.S. government.
The United States allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994. That required President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn’t have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the U.S. started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.
Israel opposes any Palestinian membership in U.N.-related organizations until a peace deal has been reached.
The Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations. But Trump’s team, led by Kushner, is working to broker a deal aimed at settling the intractable conflict.
The Trump administration has not disclosed details about its effort to achieve an agreement that ostensibly would grant the Palestinians an independent state in exchange for an end to its conflict with the Israelis. Kushner and other top Trump aides have been shuttling to the region to meet with Palestinians, Israelis and officials from Arab nations.
The Palestinians, publicly supportive of the U.S. effort, are nonetheless skeptical because Trump’s close ties to Israel suggest whatever deal he proposes might be unfavorable to them.
Phil McCausland is an NBC News reporter focused on the rural-urban divide.
Alex Johnson is a reporter and editor for NBC News based in Los Angeles.