WASHINGTON - The Trump administration announced on Monday that it was shutting down the PLO diplomatic delegation in Washington, saying in a State Department statement that "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."
The State Department said that the PLO leadership had instead "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 added that the decision was "also consistent with Administration and Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court."
In addition to this announcement, Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Monday that the U.S. will shield Israel from any attempts to investigate its actions by the International Criminal Court. "While the Court welcomes the membership of the so-called 'State of Palestine,' it has threatened Israel—a liberal, democratic nation—with investigation into its actions to defend citizens from terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Gaza", Bolton said.
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"There has also been a suggestion that the ICC will investigate Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank. The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel", Bolton stated. He added that the United States "will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense."
Bolton also said that "if the Court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly."
In addition, Bolton added that the U.S. "will ban judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system," if the court investigated Americans and citizens of allied countries, such as Israel.
An Israeli official said that the Palestinians' appeal to the ICC and refusal to negotiate with Israel and the U.S. was not the way to promote peace. “It’s good that the U.S. is taking a clear stance on this matter,” they said.
Palestinian negotiator and PLO Executive secretary general Saeb Erekat said that "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. To this regard, we will take the necessary measures to protect the rights of our citizens living in the United States to access their consular services."
The Palestinians claim that the Trump administration is biased against them and has fully adopted Israel’s positions, and are saying they will only negotiate under the mediation of a broader international forum.
In his statement on the shutting down of the PLO diplomatic delegation Erekat reiterated the PLO's call for the ICC to open "its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."
"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," the statement read.
The Palestinian representative in the United States, Dr. Husam Zomlot, said: "Palestinian rights are not up for sale or negotiation. We will not be subject to blackmail and threats by the American administration."
Last year, the Trump administration threatened to shut down the PLO delegation, stating that American law requires to have meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in order to allow the delegation to continue its operations. Back then, however, negotiations between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority were still ongoing, and so the administration managed to postpone any decision on the matter.
Ever since December, when Trump announced that he will move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital, the Palestinians have stopped communicating with the Trump administration. They have said that the administration cannot be accepted as an “honest broker” because of its bias towards Israel.
In addition, as Haaretz reported over the weekend, the administration has also decided to cut more than $20 million in foreign aid meant to support hospitals in East Jerusalem. The decision will hurt Palestinian patients who require cancer treatments and eye treatments, including children. Trump said over the weekend that he has decided not to give any more aid money to the Palestinians as a way to pressure them into American-led negotiations.
Noa Landau contributed to this report.