WASHINGTON – The Trump administration announced plans Monday to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington – a move that drew an immediate rebuke from Palestinian officials who said the White House is trying to bully them.
“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 2017,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement. “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 U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”
“The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward,” she added. “This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement Monday that Monday’s announcement was “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.”
Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, plans to announce the move in a speech Monday before the Federalist Society, according to the Washington Post and other media.
The Post and other media also reported that Bolton will threaten to slap sanctions on those who cooperate with any International Criminal Court investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan. The ICC has long been controversial, with critics like Bolton suggesting it’s a threat to American sovereignty.
But it’s also particularly difficult flashpoint between the U.S. and the Palestinians. That’s because last year, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, suggested taking the issue of Israeli settlements to the International Criminal Court.
The Trump administration first threatened to close down the PLO’s office in Washington last fall but later backed off. Bolton’s decision to finalize that move will further inflame tensions between the U.S. and the Palestinians – coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to nix funding for U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza and to freeze support for the United Nation’s program that supports Palestinian refugees.
“This dangerous escalation shows that the US is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region,” Erekat said Monday.
He said the Palestinians would “take the necessary measures to protect the rights of our citizens living in the United States to access their consular services.”
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