The Trump administration has revoked visas for the Palestinian envoy to Washington and his family, just days after shutting the PLO General Delegation Office in the US capital, Palestinian officials said Sunday.
PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said the administration revoked the visas of Husam Zomlot’s wife and two children despite their being valid until 2020. Zomlot was the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington, short of the rank of ambassador, as the US does not recognize Palestinian statehood.
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Zomlot’s son Said, aged 7, who is in second grade, and daughter Alma, 5, who is in kindergarten, were pulled out of Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington last week and have since left the country.
The top diplomat left the US in May after he was recalled to Ramallah in protest of US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“As if the announcement that the US would close our office in Washington, DC was not enough, this vindictive action by the Trump administration is spiteful,” Ashrawi said on Sunday. “The US has taken its attempts to pressure and blackmail the Palestinians to a new level.”
Trump’s decision to close the PLO office is just one of several measures taken against the Palestinians to broadening its pressure campaign on Ramallah to return to peace talks. The PA cut off with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved its embassy there, has sharply criticized Trump and his Middle East envoys, and has rejected sight-unseen a peace plan the administration is working on.
At the time of the office closure, a US State Department official said the decision was based on the Palestinians’ refusal to enter into meaningful peace talks – a congressionally-mandated requirement for keeping the office open.
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“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,” Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the State Department, said at the time. “However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
“To the contrary,” she continued, “PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”
Relations have been deteriorating ever since Trump announced his positions on Jerusalem last December, at which point the PA dismissed him as a potential broker for peace. But the Trump administration has escalated its own pressure campaign against the Palestinians in recent weeks, slashing aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, for east Jerusalem hospitals, for Palestinian-Israeli cooperation programs and direct assistance to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank itself.
“I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying,” Trump told Jewish leaders in a Rosh Hashanah phone call.
Nikki Haley, who serves as the US ambassador to the UN and who has consulted closely with the peace team, also said that Palestinian rhetoric critical of the president contributed to the aid cuts.
“Our job is not to take the beatings that you give us, saying we’re not kind to Palestinians and then turn around pay for them,” she said last month.
Ma’an News Agency, a wire service in the Palestinian territories, reported Zomlot telling colleagues that he and his family were being punished for “rejecting” Trump’s proposals for a peace agreement with Israel. The White House has yet to release its plan, but Palestinian officials claim US diplomats have floated some of their proposals to them in private through intermediaries.
The US peace team, which comprises Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations; and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, have said their plan would irk both sides in some ways, and please both sides in others.
“We are in the ‘pre-launch’ phase of the plan and still need to put the finishing touches on it, although that can happen very quickly,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post last week. “And, in an ideal world, we want to put forth a plan at a time that gives it the best chances of achieving success.”
Palestinian officials have cast the plan aside as “dead on arrival,” and warn that Trump’s aides are attempting to change the “terms of reference” upon which negotiations would be based, reframing the core issues in ways disadvantageous to the Palestinians.
US officials responded to this criticism by cautioning all parties to wait to see their plan before judging it.
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