WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (JTA) — The U.S. State Department has suspended all formal contacts with Palestinian Authority representatives in the United States for at least the next nine days. Legislation that allows diplomatic contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington has lapsed, a State Department official confirmed in an interview Wednesday. The Washington PLO office “has been asked, beginning today, to suspend activities,” said the official on the condition of anonymity. The suspension comes on the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two-day visit to Washington. Clinton administration officials hope to have the PLO office reopened before Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat’s visit later this month. The suspension of contact occurred because the State Department, as it was waiting for Israel and the Palestinians to reach an accord on Hebron, missed a deadline to certify that the Palestinians are in compliance with their accords with Israel. Under the terms of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, first passed in 1993, the State Department must report to Congress on PLO compliance every six months. The president then must wait at least 30 days before issuing a formal certification. That certification allows for both formal contacts and financial aid to the Palestinians. Because the report was sent to Congress late, Clinton must wait to adopt the report’s finding that “on the whole” the PLO has complied with its accords. “The earliest that can happen is nine or 10 days from now,” the State Department official said. The closure marks the second time that the State Department has forced the PLO to cease formal operations since the legislation was enacted. Last year, Congress let the law lapse for two weeks. During his visit, Netanyahu has scheduled meetings with President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and congressional leaders. From Washington, he is scheduled to travel to New York, where he will meet with Jewish religious leaders, before he returns to Israel on Saturday night.
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