The United States government announced the closure of the Palestinian leadership’s de facto embassy in Washington as a "punishment" for not engaging in one-sided talks with Israel, and for attempting to sue the Israeli government at the International Criminal Court despite warnings from Washington.
In a statement on Monday, the U.S. State Department said the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations 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," the statement said.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said Monday that this move by the Trump administration is to “protect Israeli crimes”.
He also said that the leadership will not be deterred from seeking action in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague against Israel. "We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying."
Interestingly, the Trump administration will also announce on Monday that it will adopt an offensive posture against ICC, threatening sanctions against the institution if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes by the U.S in Afghanistan.
U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton confirmed on Monday that the Trump administration had closed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's office as "punishment" for calling on Israel to be investigated by the ICC.
According to a draft of the speech, published by Reuters, Bolton will say, “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel.”
“We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system,” he is expected to say, as reported by the Independent. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”
The Palestinians described the closure of PLO mission as the latest pressure tactic by the Trump administration that has slashed funding to a U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and to hospitals in East Jerusalem, all in one week.
“It is also extremely cruel and spiteful to persist in deliberately bashing the Palestinian people by denying them their rights, giving away their lands and rightful capital of Jerusalem, and defunding UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) and Palestinian institutions, including East Jerusalem hospitals,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO.
Ashrawi also said the U.S. closing the General Delegation of the PLO office in Washington D.C. is an irresponsible move. “This is 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,” said Erekat.
Commenting on the U.S. threatening sanctions against ICC, Erekat said, “this dangerous escalation shows that the U.S. 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. … It symbolizes the U.S. attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council among others.”
The official also said the PLO will take necessary measures to protect the rights of Palestinians living in the U.S. to access their consular services.