Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Trump administration ordered the closure of Palestine Liberation Organization offices in Washington on Monday, broadening its pressure campaign on Ramallah to return to peace talks with Israel.
The fate of the Georgetown offices has been in limbo for over a year, ever since the administration discovered it was congressionally obligated to close the diplomatic facility should Palestinian officials target Israel at the International Criminal Court. Palestinian Authority officials have said they plan on doing just that in the coming weeks.
"We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November," the State Department announced on Monday. "However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.
"To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," the statement continued. "As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the Administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close
at this point."
John Bolton is expected to outline the new policy in a speech that will also threaten ICC judges with sanction if they target Israel or the US for its policies toward the Palestinians.
"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton will say, according to a copy of the speech obtained by Reuters. "We will consider taking steps in the UN Security Council to constrain the court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute."
"The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," Bolton adds.
Palestinian officials responded angrily to the news.
The Palestinian Authority said on Monday that "adhering to and preserving Jerusalem was more important than Palestinians' ties with the US.
In response to the US administration's decision to close the PLO office in Washington, PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that the closure of the office won't prompt the Palestinians to change any of their positions.
"Adherence to Jerusalem and preserving it and the rights of the Palestinians, including the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees, is more important than the relationship with the US," Abu Rudaineh said. "The decision to close the PLO office won't stop us from preserving our Islamic and Christian holy sites or change our commitment to international resolutions and the decisions of Arab and Islamic summits concerning the Palestinian cause."
Senior diplomat Saeb Erekat decried the US decision as designed "to protect Israeli crimes" and said that the move would not deter Palestinian legal action against Israel.
"We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying," Erekat said in a statement. "Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, likewise derided the Trump administration move.
"It is ironic that the US is punishing the PLO," she said according to a statement released by her office, "the highest political body that made the commitment to reaching a political and legal settlement of the Palestinian question and that has engaged in negotiations with successive US administrations for decades."
Trump's decision to close the offices is just one of several punitive measures taken against the Palestinians in recent weeks. The administration has also "redirected" aid meant for the West Bank and Gaza, ended all funding for the UN agency on Palestinian refugees and halted funding to east Jerusalem hospitals.
The PA shut off contact with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital last year.
J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami responded to the Trump Administration's move. “The record makes clear that any ‘peace’ proposal coming from this administration is nothing more than a sham," said Ben-Ami.
"This is the latest in a series of moves explicitly intended to pressure and undermine the only government among the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians that currently endorses a two-state solution," he added. "It follows the previously unimaginable spectacle of an American government expressly attempting to take final status issues like Jerusalem and refugees ‘off the table,’ maliciously choking off bilateral and multilateral assistance benefiting Palestinians in dire need of clean water, medicine and education, and making clear the U.S. will no longer speak out against unrelenting illegal settlement activity."
Trump's peace team, led by his son-in-law and longtime lawyer, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, have been working on a Middle East peace plan for 19 months, but have yet to release it.
Samuel Thrope contributed to this report.
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