Biden pledges to reopen PLO mission in Washington faces legal hurdles

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Jerusalem

US President Joe Biden’s plan to work to reopen the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington could be held up over a law that exposes Palestinian officials to US anti-terror lawsuits, officials and advisers to the Palestinians say.

The Biden administration hopes to repair relations with the Palestinians after a sharp deterioration under former President Donald Trump, who closed the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Washington office in 2018 and cut millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But under an anti-terror amendment passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump in 2019, the Palestinians would become liable for $655.5 million in financial penalties against them in US courts if they open an office in the United States.

There are also questions about how Biden will fulfil a pledge to resume economic aid to the Palestinians. The Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress in 2018, restricts some aid until the Palestinians end payments to people jailed by Israel over violent crimes, among other conditions.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Acting US envoy Richard Mills said Washington “intended to take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed for the last US administration”, without giving a timeline.

The legal hurdles underscore the range of challenges Biden may face in restoring ties with the Palestinians and reversing actions taken by Trump, who overturned longtime US Middle East policy with a series of pro-Israel steps including ending US opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians say his actions discredited the longtime US role as chief mediator in their conflict with Israel and further dimmed any chance of a peace deal envisaging a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Palestinian leaders have welcomed Biden’s pledges of rapprochement, but while he can reverse some measures through executive orders, others involve laws passed by Congress and are not as easily changed.—Reuters