JERUSALEM – Palestinian officials on Monday vowed not to bend to what they called the Trump administration’s bullying tactics after being notified that their office in Washington would be shut down as part of an effort to block cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he was officially notified of the decision, which the State Department formally announced Monday morning, charging that the Palestine Liberation Organization “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” The announcement also cited U.S. “concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.”
Erekat decried the move as a continuation of a policy of “collective punishment” by the Trump administration.
“These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two state solution,” he said. “I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes.”
U.S. moves to pressure the Palestinian leadership over the past year have driven the relationship to a crisis point. They have chipped away at the core tenets of Palestinian aspirations — a capital in part of Jerusalem and a right of return for refugees — while ramping up financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
The Trump administration’s moves, Palestinian officials say, represent an attempt to inflict irreversible damage on their ambitions for a state, as Washington also effectively greenlights Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
The United States said last year that it would close the PLO’s office in Washington after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes. However, he later advised the Palestinian leadership to limit the office’s activities to efforts to achieve peace with Israel as the Trump administration prepares its long-awaited peace plan.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, described the action as “clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation.”
The order to close the PLO office comes days before the 25th anniversary of the historic Oslo Accords, when the PLO and Israel mutually recognized each other and launched a peace process. That pact paved the way for the PLO to open its Washington office the following year.
The PLO office essentially functions as an embassy but does not officially represent “Palestine,” as the United States does not recognize a Palestinian state. However, that is a stated aim of previous administrations. The Trump administration has refrained from directly calling for a two-state solution, saying it would back one if both sides agree.
In a series of blows to the Palestinians, the Trump administration has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the U.S. Embassy there and cut funding to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees. Then, last week, Washington said it would withdraw $25 million in support from hospitals in East Jerusalem.
In a speech Monday, National Security Advister John Bolton threatened to impose sanctions against the ICC if it proceeds with investigations against the U.S. or Israel. The United States would ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the country, sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them in the courts, the report said.
But Erekat said the Palestinian leadership would double down on its efforts and would submit a new complaint to the ICC within 48 hours over an Israeli Supreme Court decision to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
He said the United States is not “part of the peace process” and does not even have the right to “sit in the room” during any negotiations, and he dismissed U.S. officials such as the ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, as a “group of settlers” pursuing a right-wing Israeli agenda.
The United States is not a member of the ICC but cooperated with the court under the Obama administration. Israel is also not a member.