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Palestinians Condemn US Decision to Shut PLO Mission in Washington

Palestinians Condemn US Decision to Shut PLO Mission in Washington

Monday, 10 September, 2018 - 19:15
The US plans to shut the Palestinians Liberation Organization mission in Washington. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The United States announced on Monday that it was still committed to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process despite announcing that it plans to shut the Palestinians' mission in Washington.

Washington also threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it pursues investigations against the US, Israel or other allies.

"This is yet another affirmation of the Trump administration's policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education," Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

The American administration cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the PLO office, although the US has yet to present its plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of US engagement with them.

The announced closure was the latest move by President Donald Trump to push the Palestinians into peace talks, toward what the US president has termed the "ultimate deal” or “deal of the century”.

The Palestinians have accused the Trump administration of being biased.

The move to not grant the mission its normal six-month renewal came after Palestinian leaders allegedly breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the ICC in The Hague.

The closure of the PLO office 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 US law, a reflection of congressional concerns and consistent with US policy to oppose and punish Palestinian attempts to bring Israel before the ICC.

Shortly after the State Department announcement, Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, launched a broadside against the ICC. Bolton declared that the court "is already dead" to the US. 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 Palestinian leadership cut off contact with the Trump administration after the US president recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.

Trump has since pledged to withhold aid from the Palestinians until they return to the negotiating table.

The decision on the PLO mission comes just ahead of the 25th anniversary of the first Oslo accord on September 13, which was famously sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn and raised hopes of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO mission in Washington, told journalists in Ramallah that the closure was "to protect Israel from war crimes, crimes against humanity that Israel is committing in the occupied Palestinian territories."

Both Erekat and Zomlot pledged to push forward with Palestinian efforts at the ICC, where the chief prosecutor has already opened a preliminary probe into the allegations.

In recent weeks, the United States has cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians as well as cancelled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

In making such moves, Trump has sided with Israel on core issues in the conflict without publicly asking for any concessions in return.

Palestinian leaders see his White House as blatantly biased in favor of Israel.

"Part of it is bullying," Zomlot said in response to a question about the US strategy.

"But the main part of it is just going ahead and implementing the grocery list that was submitted to them by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu."

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