Trump administration orders closure of PLO offices in Washington

The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization seen above its offices in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization seen above its offices in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – The Trump Administration ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, D.C.

“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. However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the announcement Monday.

“To the contrary, 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. As such, and reflecting Congressional concerns, the Administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point,” the announcement said.

The announcement also linked the closure to “Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning praised the decision at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, which was delayed by three days due to Rosh Hashanah.

“The U.S. made the correct decision when it decided to close the PLO offices in Washington. The Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations with Israel even as they attack Israel with false claims in international forums. Israel very much appreciates the Trump administration decision and supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that the refusal to enter into negotiations with Israel and the unbridled attacks against Israel will not only not advance peace but will certainly not make things better for the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.

Amb. Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, condemned the decision to close the Palestinian mission to the U.S. He said in the statement issued on Monday that “we are not surprised.”

“Such a reckless act confirms that the administration is blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list,’ which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the U.S.,” Zomlot said.

He rejected the reason for the closure, adding, “We stand firm in our decision not to cooperate in this ongoing campaign to liquidate our rights and cause. Our rights are not for sale and we will block any attempts at bullying and blackmailing us to forgo our legitimate and internationally endorsed rights.

“This confirms to us that we are on the right track. We will step up our efforts to hold Israel accountable under international law, continue building international alliances for peace, double our efforts to reach out to the American people as we witness the transformational change in American public opinion in support of the Palestinian cause and our legitimate rights.”

The closure follows a month in which the United States announced that it would cut more than $200 million for humanitarian and development aid in the West Bank and Gaza; halt all funding to the UNRWA, United Nations refugee agency that aids Palestinians; and halt funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, made up of six hospitals.

On Monday in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton confirmed the closure of the PLO office and called the International Criminal Court (ICC) an “illegitimate court.”

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly… The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said in his remarks.

He called the ICC “ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous,” and said that the court “is already dead to us.”

“While the court welcomes the membership of the so-called state of Palestine, it has threatened Israel, a liberal, democratic nation, with investigation into its actions in the West Bank and Gaza to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks,” Bolton also said, reiterating that the “United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel.”

He also pointed out that: “Israel too has sharply criticized the ICC.”

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