The White House announced Monday that it is closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) diplomatic mission in Washington over what U.S. officials say is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to participate in the peace process and attempts to get an international court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes, The Times of Israel reported.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) repeatedly has reiterated its unwillingness to engage with a U.S.-led regional peace initiative, which enjoys the support of Arab states, as well as to negotiate with Washington’s envoys, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
“The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said during a speech to the Federalist Society. “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 added: “The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC (International Criminal Court), or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”
The Hague-based ICC was set up in 2002 with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Bolton, however, described the ICC as “unaccountable” and warned that, “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly.”
The U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that it was ordering the closure of the PLO office. “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 spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
She described the move as part of a widening U.S. pressure campaign on Palestinian officials amid stalled Middle East peace prospects. “The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel, Nauert said.
“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. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”
The move was praised in Israel, where the Prime Minister’s office said the U.S. was taking a clear stance against the Palestinian refusal to negotiate. “The Palestinian’s appeal to the ICC and their rejection of negotiations with Israel and the US are not the way to achieve peace, and it is good that the US is taking a clear stance in the matter.”
The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, charged in a statement on Sunday 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.”
The State Department announced earlier this month that the U.S. is ending funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, demanding a comprehensive reform program. The U.S. said in a written statement that it “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support.
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