US to announce closure of PLO office in Washington

WSJ quotes draft of speech by John Bolton saying move is due to Palestinians’ rejection of US peace efforts and their calls for probe of Israel at ICC

The Palestinian flag is seen above the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, DC, November 18, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
The Palestinian flag is seen above the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, DC, November 18, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

The United States is set to announce the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington on Monday as the Trump administration ramps up its pressure campaign on the Palestinians over their rejection of US peace efforts.

The decision to shutter the office, which acts as the Palestinian Authority’s de facto embassy in the US, is also due to Palestinian calls for Israel to be investigated at the International Criminal Court, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The report was later confirmed by a top Palestinian official.

The expected move comes after the US cut funding in recent weeks to a number of aid programs for 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 closure will be announced in a speech to a conservative legal group by National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to the Journal, and in a formal declaration later Monday by the State Department.

“The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel,” he will reportedly say. “The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem on August 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)

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 his speech, Bolton will say the closure keeps with congressional opposition to Palestinian attempts to trigger an ICC probe of Israel, the report said. 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 pursues investigations of the US and Israel. Such sanctions could include barring judges and prosecutors from entering the US, as well as asset freezes.

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, will reportedly say.

Top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were informed of the expected move by the US, which he accused of working to “collectively punish the Palestinian people.”

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)

“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 in a statement.

He also reiterated calls for the ICC to investigate Israel 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.”

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.

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.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki speaks during a press conference at the International Criminal Court on May 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

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.

AFP contributed to this report.

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