MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Hi. I want to ask you about the closure of the Palestinian – the PLO mission in Washington, because the reason ostensibly is because – I mean, Congress somehow added to their appropriation bill a clause that says if the Palestinians undertake any efforts, of course, to – or to threaten to go to the ICC, then they will shut down the office.
But it’s also – there is an element of, like, it’s not clear, it’s a bit cloudy, because on the one hand they say if they’re going to negotiations then that office won’t be reopened while there are no negotiations. The administration has not even announced its peace plans. It did not ask the Palestinians to negotiate.
So what is it that you’re asking of the Palestinians? What do they need to do to have the office open?
MS NAUERT: Okay, so here’s what I can tell you where things stand right now, and there’s not a ton of information because some decisions are still in the process of being made right now. So I know this won’t be sufficient to quench your thirst for knowledge on this, but let me give it – do my best.
So under U.S. law – and you’re talking about obviously the congressional law – in order to waive statutory restrictions on the PLO and its Washington office, the Secretary has to certify that the PLO has complied with conditions that were imposed by Congress. In December 2015, Congress introduced a new condition concerning certain Palestinian actions related to the International Criminal Court. The most recent certification period ended in the month of November. We were unable – the Secretary was – to make a new certification, and we have notified the PLO accordingly.
Now, the Secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC – this, I’m referring to comments that were made at the United Nations – did not permit the Secretary to make a factual certification that was required by that statute. So he took a very technical look at this and determined that they were basically – the PLO had not complied with the conditions that were set by Congress.
QUESTION: Yeah, but neither – neither Israel nor the United States, for that matter, is part of the Rome Protocol that stipulates that. There is nothing in the offing. It was basically a statement done in the General Assembly about they intend to go if Israel does not cease settlement activities. You are certainly against settlement activities. They – it was very specific. It was specific to that point on settlement and so on, which you and the rest of the world considers illegal.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. So I understand that. I hear you on that. The Secretary took a very technical and a very specific look at this and determined that it was not in – not in compliance.
QUESTION: I really appreciate you indulging me on this, and my colleagues. I just have a couple more —
MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.
QUESTION: – on this. Because what are the legal ramifications? In the past, the secretary of state would go and actually make the argument that it’s a good thing and it is important because you are – you have shepherded all these peace efforts that the Palestinians were involved in, and that made the case and convinced Congress. But apparently not this State Department. They are not doing anything.
So what would be the – what is the mechanism to close down the office? I mean, I know that they are still actually operating and so on. So we don’t know what is the next step, no?
MS NAUERT: What I can – yeah, what I can tell you is that conversations will be taking place. We are in contact with the Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office. I don’t want reporters to get ahead of themselves in reporting on this, okay, so let’s try to stick with what we are – what we are covering here.
We are in contact with them about the status of the PLO office in Washington as well as in – having conversations with them about our larger efforts on the part of a lasting and comprehensive peace process. So these conversations are underway. I saw reports earlier this morning that conversations are not. I can assure you that they are still underway. We are not giving up on the plan for peace.
QUESTION: No, I’m not —
MS NAUERT: We are not doing that. I mean, you know how important that is to this administration, to Mr. Kushner and also to Jason Greenblatt as well. They’ve spent a lot of time going over there, supported by the State Department and our efforts and the ambassador. And so we’re continuing to push ahead for a comprehensive peace plan. The Israelis and the Palestinians have both said that they want that as well.
QUESTION: So just to be crystal clear —
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt –when that leadership says that communications are frozen with the U.S., that’s not true?
MS NAUERT: In our view, communications are not frozen.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Heather —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the status of the – of the office and the ambassador?
MS NAUERT: Look, I – there are – we’re continuing to look at the situation. We’re in contact with the Palestinians. As far as I am aware, the offices – I mean, you can talk to the PLO office yourself. I haven’t driven past there to see what’s going on, what kind of activity. But as far as I know, it’s open and running right now.
QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit about what your thinking is on the strategy behind this? Because if you’re going to be cutting aid to the Palestinians and threatening to close down the office, I don’t see what kind of leverage, possible leverage you would have. And there – is there any strategy behind it thinking this could somehow help the situation instead of just making them feel their backs are up against the wall?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, as I said, we continue to have conversations with them. We have many conversations and a good relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. That relationship will continue. Those conversations will continue to go on, and that won’t change.
Okay. Yeah. Hi.
QUESTION: But Heather, many people believe this is – hi – that it’s a way to exert pressure on the Palestinians since actually they didn’t go to the ICC. This is an intent, which is referring to President Abbas speech to the UN. So on one hand, you say that you wanted to keep the negotiation and the peace process alive, and the same time you’re punishing them by shutting down the office. I mean, obviously you don’t give the Palestinians any chance of entering into it.
MS NAUERT: I am not committing to the way that you are describing this as – you’re making this black and white. Shutting down an office – that’s not what we are talking about today. There are some conversations underway. The Secretary is taking a look at this and we’ll get back to you when we have more.
QUESTION: Okay, just one more. Sorry. Was this decision taken in close consultation with the White House?
MS NAUERT: There were – the State Department and the White House were in close consultation about this.
QUESTION: Heather —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — it seems like the State Department, since this came out on Friday, hasn’t been able to explain is the office shutting down, do they have to leave the office, when is it shutting down, and sort of, like, we’re figuring that out. Wouldn’t it have made sense to sort of get all that lined up before you announce that you triggered this —
MS NAUERT: I’m not the strategist here, so there are other people who were involved in making some of those decisions. I know – I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open. So that’s why I say let’s not make things black and white at this point.
QUESTION: Does this affect also – sorry, does this affect the U.S. citizens, American citizens, who are working at the PLO mission now?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not – I just don’t have an answer for you on that. I think things are operating today as they were last week. I believe so.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if there is a legal team working on this now to see —
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Can you tell us if there is a legal team in the building itself, here, in this building, that are working on this at the present time?
MS NAUERT: Well, we always have teams of people that are working. I mean, you name the issue, we have teams of people who are working on it.
QUESTION: Are they looking at this, how it morphed from 1987 until now?
MS NAUERT: I would imagine so.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right, let’s move on. What else do we want to talk about?