Israel welcomes 'clear US stance' on Palestinian actions

US officially announces closure of PLO mission in Washington

Palestinian organization ‘has not taken steps to advance meaningful negotiations with Israel,’ State Dept. says, also citing PA’s appeal to ICC

The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, November 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, November 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The US State Department confirmed Monday it was ordering the closure of the Washington mission of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, saying the Palestinians were not supporting peace talks with Israel.

“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.

“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. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

She said “the United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward… 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.”

Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Nauert added that the closure decision was consistent with US concerns about Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.

Israel welcomed the move, with the Prime Minister’s Office saying “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 announcement came as US anger grows over Palestinian resistance to its peace overtures and calls by the Palestinian Authority for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel.

Earlier a top Palestinian official lashed out at the United States over news of the upcoming decision, accusing the Trump administration of seeking to “collectively punish the Palestinian people.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

In a statement, Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were informed of the decision to shutter the PLO mission by a US official and categorized the move with recent American funding cuts to aid programs for Palestinians.

“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,” he said.

He also reiterated calls for the ICC to probe “Israeli crimes” and vowed the Palestinians would not “succumb to US threats and bullying.”

“Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington DC means much more than a new slap by the Trump administration against peace and justice,” Erekat said.

“It symbolizes the US attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO and the Human Rights Council among others,” he added, referring to US withdrawals from international agreements and organizations under President Donald Trump.

The spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the Ramallah government would maintain its “commitment to the resolutions of international legitimacy” despite the US move.

According to a written statement released on Monday, Rudeineh said core issues of the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, “are more important than the relationship with the United States.”

People are seen outside the Palestinian Liberation Organization Delegation office in Washington DC on September 10, 2018.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, slammed the planned move as “extremely cruel” and “spiteful.”

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO mission in Washington, told journalists in Ramallah that the closure was “to protect Israel from war crimes, crimes against humanity that Israel is committing in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

“Part of it is bullying,” Zomlot said in response to a question about the US strategy. “But the main part of it is just going ahead and implementing the grocery list that was submitted to them by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu.”

Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

The move came after three consecutive weeks of announced US funding cuts to the Palestinians and on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s remarks that he’ll only resume financial support if the Palestinians agree to a peace deal with Israel.

The PA has boycotted the Trump administration and rebuffed its peace efforts since the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December of last year. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.

In an expected speech later Monday, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton will reportedly say the closure keeps with congressional opposition to Palestinian attempts to trigger an ICC probe of Israel, according to the Wall Street Journal. Congress in 2015 mandated that the PLO mission be shut if the Palestinians initiate or support an investigation by the court against Israelis.

“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense,” he is quoted saying in a draft of his speech reviewed by the newspaper.

He is also expected to warn that the US will sanction the ICC if it pursues investigations of the US and Israel. Such sanctions could include barring judges and prosecutors from entering the US, as well as asset freezes.

In May, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the White House was weighing closing the PLO mission after the PA’s foreign minister submitted a “referral” to the ICC calling for an investigation of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and the violent clashes on the Gaza border.

Exterior view of the headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, January 12, 2016 (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

In mid-November, the US State Department informed PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki that the PLO office in DC would be closed because the Palestinians had violated a 2015 US Congressional mandate.

At the time, a US State Department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court as a violation.

In a 2017 address to the United Nations General Assembly, PA President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to violate US law, saying, “We have also called on the International Criminal Court, as is our right, to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials” over Israeli settlement activity, he said.

Jerusalem has long argued that the ICC has no jurisdiction over matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it has no jurisdiction over Israel (which is not a member state) and because Palestine is not a state and therefore cannot exercise jurisdiction over the West Bank.

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