After shuttering the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington last week, the Trump administration this week has closed the bank accounts and revoked the visas for the family of Husam Zomlot, the PLO ambassador who had been stationed in the US capital.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had already recalled Zomlot earlier this year in protest of the US decision late last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While Zomlot was back in Ramallah, his wife, seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter remained in the US. They now have a month to leave the country.
Revoking the visas is just the latest step in a series of moves that Washington has undertaken in an apparent attempt to punish the PA for boycotting peace efforts with US officials. This comes as both Israelis and Palestinians anxiously await the unveiling of the administration’s much touted “deal of the century.”
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, the international spokesman for the Fatah movement, told The Media Line that “this is not something new for us; this is a part of the Trump administration’s agenda to put as much pressure as possible on the Palestinian leadership in order to make them submit to the rejected conditions that Trump is trying to put in place.”
The US approach toward the PA appears thus far to be one of doling out many sticks and few, if any, carrots. The list of sticks include the administration’s decision to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem
after officially recognizing the city as Israel’s capital; its ending of all funding to UNWRA, the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees and their descendants; its cuts to funding for east Jerusalem hospitals and Palestinian-Israeli cooperation programs; its closing of the PLO office in Washington.
But the latest move, revoking the visa, has drawn particular ire from the Palestinian side. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, slammed the US decision as “vindictive” and “spiteful.”
“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 wrote in a statement. “The US has taken its attempts to pressure and blackmail the Palestinians to a new level.”
In a recent interview, Zomlot related discussions between his staff and US State Department officials over the visa affair. “The State Department informed our colleagues, as part of the discussion on the closure, that the visas of my wife and children are dependent on the PLO delegation and as such will not be valid after the closure of the office,” Zomlot said.
“This goes against diplomatic norms. Children, spouses and family have nothing to do with political rows,” he added.
Ashrawi commented that by revoking the visas, the “US administration has gone from cruel punishment to revenge against the Palestinians and their leadership even to the point of causing hardship to their innocent children and families,” she said.
The words exchanged between Ramallah and Washington suggest that relations between the two have reached an all-time low. Analysts are asking if the Trump administration’s unorthodox and seemingly coercive approach to the Palestinian side could result in a new window of opportunities—one that is more conducive toward a sustainable peace agreement—or if US actions will only alienate Palestinians, causing them to resist defiantly all peace efforts.
Yehuda Glick, an Israeli parliamentarian in the right-wing Likud party, told The Media Line that “we [Israelis] are here to stay and the Palestinians are also here, and they are not going anywhere.” Therefore, he added, “the only real and true solution to the conflict is to learn to live together.
“I don’t refer to US President [Donald] Trump as punishing the Palestinians; I think it is 100% vice versa. He is finally respecting them. For many years, we were referring to the Palestinians as babies. They can stand on the table and turn over the picture… and we have to be nice to them and tolerant for their misbehaving. And finally someone says to the Palestinians: ‘You want to be part of the game, then let’s play the game.
“‘No supporting terror; you can’t talk peace and at the same time support terrorists’ families; you can’t tell us that you are taking care of yourself while remaining refugees forever and ever; you can’t play this double game,’” Glick said.
“‘We want to respect you… You are not babies or teenagers anymore, but true partners. If you want to live together, then let’s talk seriously about peace,’” Glick added.
Responding to the risk that the Trump administration could end up pushing the Palestinians away from the table, Glick explained that the Palestinians can only benefit from being in close relationship with Israel and the US
“For decades the Palestinians have been complaining and blaming others, instead of building and upgrading their society. ‘Start doing, and we [Israelis] will help you,’” Glick concluded.
Abu Zayyad said that the US moves will likely backfire. “President Abbas is already in discussion and opening channels with the international community and the European Union. We’re preparing for September and the General Assembly meeting and we will respond by assuring that Trump’s administration is not a mediator for the peace process.”
On the issue of the US closure of the PLO’s office in Washington, Khalil Abuzayed said it is not justified and “it is actually against international law because no crime had been done. There is no proof of anything justifying such steps, Abu Zayyad said.
He concluded that the US cuts in funding for Palestinian programs go against international law. According to the Oslo agreement, “the US took on the responsibility of funding such programs that Israel was obliged to pay for as long as the latter occupies Palestinian land and is responsible for the Palestinian people.”
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