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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. (Credit: Reuters)

Palestinian flag waves at Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Yuri Gripas)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement issued following Rosh Hashanah, praised the decision of the Trump administration to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Washington, D.C., offices. President Donald Trump announced the planned closure on Monday, the first day of the Jewish New Year, broadening the U.S. pressure campaign on Ramallah to return to peace talks with Israel.

Netanyahu said that “the US made the correct decision regarding the PLO mission in Washington. Israel supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace.”

The fate of the PLO offices has been in limbo for over a year, ever since the administration discovered it was congressionally obligated to close the diplomatic facility should Palestinian officials target Israel at the International Criminal Court. Palestinian Authority officials have said they plan on doing just that in the coming weeks.

“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,” the State Department announced. “However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.

“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,” the statement continued. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

John Bolton is expected to outline the new policy in a speech that will also threaten ICC judges with sanction if they target Israel or the U.S. for its policies toward the Palestinians.

“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 will say, according to a copy of the speech obtained by Reuters. “We will consider taking steps in the U.N. Security Council to constrain the court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute. The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel.”

Palestinian officials responded angrily to the news.

The Palestinian Authority said that “adhering to and preserving Jerusalem was more important than Palestinians’ ties with the U.S.

In response to the U.S. decision, PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that the closure of the office won’t prompt the Palestinians to change any of their positions.

“Adherence to Jerusalem and preserving it and the rights of the Palestinians, including the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees, is more important than the relationship with the U.S.,” Abu Rudaineh said. “The decision to close the PLO office won’t stop us from preserving our Islamic and Christian holy sites or change our commitment to international resolutions and the decisions of Arab and Islamic summits concerning the Palestinian cause.”

Senior diplomat Saeb Erekat decried the U.S. decision as designed “to protect Israeli crimes” and said that the move would not deter Palestinian legal action against Israel.

“We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying,” Erekat said in a statement. “Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes.”

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, described the decision as reckless: “We condemn in the strongest terms the U.S. administration’s decision to close the Palestinian mission to the U.S. However, we are not surprised,” he said in a statement. “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.” The Palestinian envoy to Washington said that his staffers have been given a month to pack up.

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) praised the Trump administration’s decision. “Thirty years ago, Congress correctly declared that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its affiliates were terror groups who had no place keeping an office in the United States. Decades of Palestinian behavior since then has confirmed the wisdom of that judgment. Today, Palestinian leaders still refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, still incite and financially reward terrorism, and still lash out against our lawmakers and diplomats,” he said. “Until today, presidents from both parties let the PLO keep an office open in Washington, D.C., which signaled to Palestinian leaders that violence and intransigence had no costs, and so hindered the cause of peace… I commend President Trump and his administration for taking the necessary, prudent and long overdue step of closing down the PLO office.”

Trump’s decision to close the offices is just one of several punitive measures taken against the Palestinians in recent weeks. The administration has also “redirected” aid meant for the West Bank and Gaza, ended all funding for the UN agency on Palestinian refugees, and halted funding to east Jerusalem hospitals.