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Trump administration orders closure of Palestinian office

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Associated Press

WASHINGTON

The Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington on Monday and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel, or other allies. The moves are likely to harden Palestinian resistance to the U.S. role as a peace broker.

The administration cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office, although the U.S. has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them.

Shortly after the State Department announcement, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, launched a broadside against The Hague-based International Criminal Court. Bolton declared that the ICC “is already dead” to the U.S. He also threatened the court and its staff with sanctions if it proceeds with investigations into alleged war crimes by American troops in Afghanistan.

The closure of the PLO office – the latest in a series of moves targeting the Palestinians – was centered on the fact that no “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” are underway despite previous warnings, the State Department said. It said the decision was also in line with U.S. law, a reflection of congressional concerns and consistent with U.S. policy to oppose and punish Palestinian attempts to bring Israel before the ICC.

The administration had told the Palestinians last year that closure was a distinct possibility unless they agreed to sit to down with the Israelis. It has yet to release its own much-vaunted but largely unknown peace plan although it said it still intends to do so.

Instead of heeding the warning to resume talks, “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,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”