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September 22, 2018

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Trump administration plans to shutter Palestinian office

Updated Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 | 8:09 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. plans to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington in its latest show of support for the U.S-Israel relationship, according to three U.S. officials.

National Security Adviser John Bolton was expected to address the decision in a speech later Monday.

"When the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," President Donald Trump's administration will no longer keep the office open, Bolton planned to say, according to prepared remarks.

The Trump administration notified the Palestinians last year it will shutter their office in Washington unless they enter serious peace talks with Israel. The three U.S. officials with knowledge of the policy announcement expected on Monday were not authorized to brief the media and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the move "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."

The Palestine Liberation Organization, commonly known as the PLO, formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained in Washington a general delegation office that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the U.S. government.

The head of the PLO delegation to the U.S. accused the Trump administration of "dismantling decades of U.S. vision and engagement in Palestine."

"Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work," Ambassador Husam Zomlot said.

Trump, a Republican, has delivered a number of blows to the Palestinians during his time in office.

Most recently Trump's administration ended U.S. funding for the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees, slashing aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza and cutting funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.

Trump also recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there, from Tel Aviv. Dozens of Palestinians were killed in protests that erupted following the move, and Palestinians have since rejected the U.S. as a peace broker.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump's administration has been working to mediate a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.

Trump has promised to pursue the "ultimate deal" between the Palestinians and Israel. However, such a deal is unlikely given Palestinian mistrust of his administration.