The Trump administration has ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization offices in Washington and threatened tough action against the International Criminal Court if it should try to prosecute Americans or its allies for alleged war crimes.
The new policies were laid down in a speech delivered by US National Security Adviser John Bolton to the Federalist Society.
“The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel. And today, reflecting congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the State Department will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office here in Washington, DC,” he said.
Bolton, who was in Israel in late August, declared, “the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Bolton’s speech focused on the US opposition to the court because it had Americans in its sights and detailed actions the US will take against the ICC. He said that since its establishment in 2002, the ICC “has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.”
The moves were applauded in Israel, and blasted by the Palestinians.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Monday saying Palestinian appeals to the ICC, and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to negotiate with Israel and the United States, “is not the way to peace, and it is good that the US took a clear position on this matter.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the US took the “right decision” in regard to the PLO office in Washington.
“Israel supports American actions meant to make clear to the Palestinians that refusal to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace.”
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu), a former Southern Command commander, praised Bolton for the decision to fight the ICC, saying that he and other IDF officers were falsely accused by “lying representatives of The Hague. The time has come to put an end to the circus at The Hague."
Palestinian officials responded angrily to the news. Senior diplomat Saeb Erekat decried the US decision as designed “to protect Israeli crimes,” and said the move would not deter Palestinian legal action against Israel.
Referring to US President Donald Trump and his administration officials, Erekat said: “I don’t think these people can be part of any peace process or sit in any negotiations. They are really part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Erekat said the only way Americans can meet Palestinians at any negotiating room was if Netanyahu “can announce [US presidential advisers] Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and [US Ambassador to Israel] David Friedman as part of the Israeli team to the negotiations.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, likewise derided the Trump administration move.
“It is ironic that the US is punishing the PLO,” she said, according to a statement released by her office, “the highest political body that made the commitment to reaching a political and legal settlement of the Palestinian question and that has engaged in negotiations with successive US administrations for decades.”
Trump’s decision to close the offices is just one of several measures taken against the Palestinians to broadening its pressure campaign on Ramallah to return to peace talks. The PA cut off contact with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved its embassy there, has sharply criticized Trump and his Middle East envoys, and has rejected sight-unseen a peace plan the administration is working on.
In recent weeks, the administration has also redirected aid meant for the West Bank and Gaza, ended all funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and halted funding to east Jerusalem hospitals.
The fate of the PLO’s Georgetown offices has been in limbo for more than 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 on Monday.
“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 US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US 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.”
In his speech, Bolton said the Trump administration “will fight back” if the ICC proceeds with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US service members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan.
“The ICC prosecutor has requested to investigate these Americans for alleged detainee abuse, and perhaps more – an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation,” he said.
If such an inquiry goes ahead, the Trump administration will consider banning judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, put sanctions on any funds they have in the US financial system and prosecute them in American courts, Bolton said.
“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us,” he said.
In addition, the United States may negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering Americans to The Hague-based court, Bolton said.
The court’s aim is to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The US did not ratify the Rome Statute that established the ICC in 2002, with Republican president George W. Bush opposed to the court. Bush’s Democratic successor, Barack Obama, took some steps to cooperate with it.
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.