PLO defiant as US plans to close its Washington offices

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Palestinian official says Trump's decision shows that the US is willing to disband international system in order to protect Israel's crimes

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC (AFP)
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Monday 10 September 2018 13:06 UTC
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The US is set to close the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington, in the latest move by US President Donald Trump's administration to close and defund pro-Palestinian institutions.

Officials said the announcement would be made on Monday, one day after the 25th anniversary of the Letter of Mutual Recognition that saw Israel and the PLO recognise each other's legitimacy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to a draft speech seen by the newspaper, American national security advisor John Bolton will blame the Palestinians for failing to restart peace negotiations with Israel.

“The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel,” he will say.

“The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

Bolton's remarks are part a speech titled "Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats."

Bolton against the ICC

The speech will also include a warning to the International Criminal Court, which Bolton has long been an opponent of. In the last year, the court has shown signs of being willing to threaten American power.   

Between November 20 2017 and 31 January 2018, organisations in Europe and Afghanistan collected over a million allegations of war crimes from Afghan citizens, relating to the US war in their country. Those allegations were submitted to the ICC.

In May, the Palestinian Authority submitted a referral to the ICC calling on the body to open an investigation into "settlement expansion, land grabs, illegal exploitation of natural resources, as well as the brutal and calculated targeting of unarmed protesters, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Bolton will reportedly announce on Monday that the US will impose sanctions on court officials who attempt to investigate either the US or Israel. 



US National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2018 (Abir Sultan / Pool / AFP)

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other allies, we will not sit quietly," Bolton will say.

He said the US was prepared to ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the country in these circumstances.

“We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

Bolton will also announce that the US will oppose any ICC probe into alleged war crimes committed by US forces in Afghanistan.

"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," he is expected to say.

The PLO responds

Responding to Washington’s move to close down the PLO’s offices in the US capital, Saeb Erekat, the organisation’s secretary-general, said in a statement that it was “another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people”. 

This is another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people

- Saeb Erekat, PLO

The US, Erekat said, seems “willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine”. He called upon the ICC to “open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes”.

Palestine joined the ICC in 2012 after receiving an observer state status in the United Nations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) opened a PLO mission in Washington in 1994, after signing the Oslo I Accord peace agreement with Israel in 1993.

The US signed the Rome Treaty that established the International Criminal Court in 2002, but never ratified it.

Ultimate deals

Trump has pledged to reach the "ultimate deal" (which he also calls the "deal of the century") - Israeli-Palestinian peace - but has declined to commit to a two-state solution, for years the focus of international diplomacy.

He has also sided with Israel on core issues in the conflict, such as recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as its capital, while publicly asking for no concessions in return.

Those moves have delighted Israeli politicians who oppose a Palestinian state, but dismayed supporters of a two-state solution.

As the 25th anniversary approaches of the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords - which created a degree of autonomy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and created a framework for a two-state solution - few Palestinians will be celebrating, as Israeli settlement building has multiplied in the West Bank on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Some 600,000 Israeli settlers now live there and in occupied east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.

East Jerusalem's hospitals

Last month, the US said it would cease all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), which helps some three million refugees across the Middle East.

The Trump administration has now gone further, announcing on 9 September that it was cutting $25m in funding to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem and directing the money elsewhere.

At the gates of two of the East Jerusalem hospitals affected, medical staff were aware of the decision but refused to comment.

One of the centres, Al Makassed hospital in the Mount of Olives, said in a statement that the US aid cuts come as the “hospital is going through a suffocating crisis as a result of the lack of flow of financial aid, and the piling up of debts and funds held back by the Palestinian government”.

It said it had received 45m shekels ($12.5m) of the US money to treat patients from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Dr Bassam Abu Libdeh, Al Makassed's CEO, “questioned the justification behind mixing political issues with medical and humanitarian issues.”