Palestinian officials on Monday condemned the Trump administration's decision to shutter the Washington, D.C. office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—part of a broader effort to block International Criminal Court (ICC) probes into U.S. or Israeli war crimes—as "crude and vicious blackmail," and vowed to continue calling for ICC investigations.
"Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington, D.C. means much more than a new slap by the Trump administration against peace and justice; it symbolizes the U.S. attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council."
—Saeb Erekat, Palestinian diplomat"Such irresponsible moves are clear proof of American collusion with Israel's occupation," declared Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's executive committee. "The U.S. would do better to finally understand that the Palestinians will not surrender and that no amount of coercion or unwarranted collective punishment measures will bring the Palestinian leadership or people to their knees."
Her remarks followed reports that President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton, in a speech he is set to deliver on Monday, will threaten ICC officials with financial sanctions and travel bans if they pursue probes targeting the U.S. or Israel, and address the closure of the PLO office.
The State Department, which announced the closure Monday morning, claimed that "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," and criticized PLO leadership for rejecting the Trump administration as unqualified to mediate the decades-old conflict. The department noted the decision "is also consistent with administration and congressional concerns" over Palestinian requests that the ICC investigate Israel.
"These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution," responded Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. "I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes."
Erekat—who was notified of the forced closure ahead of the public announcement—told the Washington Post the move will not deter ICC probes, and that within 48 hours, Palestinians will submit a new complaint about the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in East Jerusalem.
Shutting down the office—after threatening to do so last year—is just the latest blow to U.S.-Palestinian relations in the Trump era. In a move rebuked by much of the global community, the administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocated the U.S. embassy; Trump also has slashed millions of dollars in funding to an agency that provides essential aid to Palestinian refugees and a network of Jerusalem hospitals that treat Palestinians.
James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute, called the series of moves "a recipe for war."
Shutting the #PLO Washington office is another indication of how blind & stupid this #Trump crowd can be. They’ve given #Israeli ultra-nationalists everything they could have asked for: #Jerusalem, no #RightOfReturn, free pass on settlements, & now this - it’s a recipe for war pic.twitter.com/s8ZzuelgZB
— James J. Zogby (@jjz1600) September 10, 2018
"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," Erekat said. "Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington, D.C. means much more than a new slap by the Trump administration against peace and justice; it symbolizes the U.S. attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council."
Under Trump, U.S. relations with the ICC also have grown more strained. The Obama administration had expanded cooperation with the court after former President George W. Bush signed a 2002 law that prohibits all government entities from cooperating with it, and authorizes the president "to use all means necessary" to force the release of any U.S. or allied person detained by or on behalf of the court.
Despite that law, however, last year the ICC's the chief prosecutor decided to seek an official probe of alleged war crimes by the American military and CIA in Afghanistan. Bolton, meanwhile, is a longtime opponent of U.S. cooperation with the court. In his speech on Monday, Bolton is expected reaffirm that the U.S. will stop at nothing to prevent the ICC from prosecuting Americans or citizens of U.S. allies.
Critics are already denouncing the speech, as Common Dream reported early Monday, for "reinforcing the worldwide perception of the U.S. as 'a bully and a hegemon' that will not tolerate attempts by the global community to hold it accountable for its deadly actions overseas."