The U.S. State Department announced Monday the mission office of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington, D.C., has been ordered closed.
The move follows a string of cutbacks in U.S. aid to Palestine, including the elimination of $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority and holding up additional aid to the U.N. for Palestinian refugees.
An organization founded in 1964, the PLO has maintained a mission in Washington since 1994, following the conclusion of the Oslo accords.
The organization currently holds “non-member observer State” status in the United Nations.
In a Monday briefing, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters PLO intransigence over Middle East peace negotiations had driven the the White House decision to close the PLO’s office:
“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. To the contrary, the 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.”
Nauert said the decision to close PLO’s office was also directly related to the group’s repeated appeals to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe alleged Israeli crimes against Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
The U.S. warned the PLO in 2017 it would close down its Washington office if it persisted in demanding the ICC probe alleged Israeli crimes. Despite State Department warnings, the PLO lodged an official request in May to the ICC for a full investigation of Israel in May 2018.
Blasting the decision as “dangerous” and describing U.S.-Palestinian relations at a “low,” the PLO’s mission’s head in Washington, Saeb Erekat, said:
“(The move 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”.
At the same time the State Department addressed the closure of the PLO office, national security adviser, John Bolton, upbraided the ICC in a speech before members of the Federalist Society, telling attendees the ICC is a “freewheeling global organization” which seeks to constrain the U.S.
In his blistering attack on the Hague-based court, Bolton said the U.S. had no intention to “sit quietly” while the ICC investigated the U.S., Israel and their allies. Bolton labeled the ICC an “illegitimate court.”
Bolton’s harsh comments came ahead of an expected ICC inquiry into war crimes allegedly perpetrated by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In his remarks, Bolton said the U.S. would not cooperate with the ICC, not provide funding for its operations, and will not join the ICC.
Bolton expanded further, outlining possible financial sanctions against the court and suggested the U.S. may forbid ICC officials from entering its border as possible punishments for its actions.
[Washington Post] [BBC] [Al Jazeera] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via CBS News]