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Trump administration orders closure of Palestinian office

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

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WASHINGTON, DC, USA (AP) — The Trump Administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington yesterday and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the US, Israel, or other allies. The moves are likely to harden Palestinian resistance to the US role as a peace broker.

The administration cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office, although the US has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of US engagement with them.

Shortly after the State Department announcement, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, launched a broadside against The Hague-based International Criminal Court. Bolton declared that the ICC “is already dead” to the US. He also threatened the court and its staff with sanctions if it proceeds with investigations into alleged war crimes by American troops in Afghanistan.

The closure of the PLO office — the latest in a series of moves targeting the Palestinians — was centred on the fact that no “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” are underway despite previous warnings, the State Department said. It said the decision was also in line with US law, a reflection of congressional concerns and consistent with US policy to oppose and punish Palestinian attempts to bring Israel before the ICC.

The administration had told the Palestinians last year that closure was a distinct possibility unless they agreed to sit down with the Israelis. It has yet to release its own much-vaunted but largely unknown peace plan although it said it still intends to do so.

Instead of heeding the warning to resume talks, “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,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

Bolton followed up in his address to The Federalist Society, a conservative, Washington-based think tank.

“The Trump Administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” he said. “The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organisation, to constrain Israel's right to self-defence.”

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the move was “yet another affirmation of the Trump Administration's policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, commonly known as the PLO, formally represents all Palestinians. Although the US does not recognise Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained in Washington a general delegation office that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the US Government.

The closure was just the latest move the administration has taken against the Palestinians and in favour of Israel.

Just last month, it cancelled more than US$200 million in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the remainder of its planned assistance for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees around the Middle East. Over the weekend, it announced it would cut US$25 million in assistance for hospitals in east Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinian patients.

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