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Will the U.S. Accept 'State of Palestine' Passports?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he’ll issue passports labeled “State of Palestine” after the new year — and the U.S. government is weighing whether they’ll be accepted.

“Regarding the issue of a passport under the name Palestine State, we are about to proceed to the passport replacement and the issuance of a new passport within one year or even less,” Abbas said Monday at a news conference in Athens. “We have already changed all documents issued by ministries and public services and they now bear the name ‘State of Palestine’. We no longer accept from anybody to use the name Palestinian Authority.”

The United Nations already uses “State of Palestine.” The United States does not.

Asked whether the U.S. will recognize the new passports, State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday, “We’re looking into it.”

“As you know, we don’t recognize the Palestinians’ state,” he added.

“It just got announced. We’re looking into it. As a matter of policy we don’t recognize the Palestinian — the state of Palestine.”

The ominbus spending bill passed by Congress before lawmakers left for the Christmas holiday includes a carry-over provision to shut the Palestine Liberation Organization’s D.C. office and cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if they initiate or actively pursue an investigation of Israel at the International Criminal Court.

It would also cut aid to Abbas’ government for pursuing full membership at the UN, and requires Secretary of State John Kerry to certify the Palestinians are “acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis” before disbursing any aid.

Thirty-two members of Congress, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), sent Kerry a letter last week asking him to revoke the PLO’s waiver to keep an office in the United States.

The PLO was blocked from maintaining an office in Washington by a 1987 act of Congress, but they’ve gotten waivers every year since 1994 to stay in D.C.

“The United States government has an obligation to publicly denounce the PLO’s actions and should immediately revoke its waiver. Allowing the PLO to maintain an office in Washington, D.C. provides no benefit to the United States or the peace process,” the letter states.

“…Closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. would send a clear statement that the kind of incitement to violence perpetrated by the PLO and its leaders will not be tolerated.”

UPDATE 5 p.m. EST: The State Department said it received the request from the lawmakers, but they “believe closing the PLO office would be detrimental to our own ongoing efforts to calm current tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, advance a two-state solution and strengthen the U.S.-Palestinian partnership.”

“We believe the PLO is an important partner, and as the official representative body of the Palestinian people before the international community, the PLO has a role to play in our efforts to advance a two- state solution. Every administration, either Republican or Democrat, has regularly exercised available waiver authority since 1994, allowing the PLO office to remain open,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters.

“Now, obviously — and certainly we have spoken about it from this podium as well as people much higher than me in the administration — we remain deeply concerned about ongoing violence in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. We completely reject the notion that there is any justification for violence against innocent civilians,” she continued.

“We continue to stress the importance of — to Palestinian leadership of strongly opposing violence in all forms. As we have said, affirmative steps are needed to calm tensions and reduce violence.”