US closes Palestinian mission but diplomats resist
WASHINGTON - Palestinian representatives on Wednesday vowed not to stay silent as they closed their mission in Washington on orders of President Donald Trump.
"This is an attempt to shut down your voice; this is an act of censorship," said Hakam Takash, a diplomat at the Palestine Liberation Organization's Washington office which had been set up in 1994 after the Oslo peace accords.
"This is a new beginning, not just in Palestinian-American relations but in the work of this community," he told a ceremony as the office symbolically took down a plaque on the Washington building.
"You'll leave here all as ambassadors today and you will carry this message forward and you will show the world that the Palestinian voice will not be silenced."
The Trump administration in September announced it was closing the mission, accusing the Palestinians of refusing to negotiate peace with Israel.
The step came as the United States under Trump allies itself ever more closely with Israel, including taking the landmark step of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the holy city which the Palestinians also want as their capital.
The PLO mission officially closed on September 13, the last day of ambassador Hossam Zomlot, but the employees had another month to finish their work.
"Regrettably, the current US administration has demonstrated in one hostile action and policy after another that it prefers to dictate rather than cooperate, coerce rather than negotiate," the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement read at the ceremony, reiterating its stance that Washington cannot continue its role leading the peace process until it shifts policy.
Under Trump, the United States has also terminated all aid to the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, triggering a funding crisis for schools and other services that benefit five million people.
James Zogby, a longtime advocate for the Palestinians as president of the Arab American Institute, condemned the US action.
"What we're here to say, quite simply, is -- you can close the office, and you can silence the voice, but the Palestinian people will not go away," he said.
"They remain. They remain on their land, they remain in their camps waiting to return, and we here as a community remain as their voice, the voice of the Palestinian people."