Trump Shuts Palestinians' U.S. Office in Dispute Over Peace Plan

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration announced Monday that it’s closing the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington over what U.S. officials say is the leadership’s refusal to participate in the peace process with Israel.

The Palestine Liberation Organization has refused to “to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a speech Monday in Washington that also took sharp aim at the International Criminal Court.

Bolton cast the move as part of a widening U.S. pressure campaign on Palestinian officials amid stalled Middle East peace prospects. President Donald Trump’s son in-law, Jared Kushner, is expected to release a peace plan in the coming weeks.

Palestinian leaders swiftly condemned the move, saying it was proof that the U.S. is determined to sabotage international efforts toward a peace deal with Israel.

“We have been notified by a U.S. official of their decision to close the Palestinian Mission to the U.S.,” Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s secretary-general and longtime peace negotiator, said in a statement. It is a “dangerous escalation” that “shows that the U.S. is willing to disband the international system.”

The move was, not surprisingly, praised in Israel, where a government official said the U.S. was taking a clear stance against the Palestinian refusal to negotiate.

Bolton spent the bulk of his speech, however, criticizing the International Criminal Court, which he said is too harsh on Israel. Bolton warned the ICC, which the U.S. hasn’t joined, that it could face penalties if it “comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies.”

Palestinian leaders have urged the ICC to consider action against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Bolton cited the Palestinian request to the court as one of the reasons the administration is shutting the diplomatic mission to the U.S.

Bolton said if the ICC takes action against the U.S., Israel or other allies, the Trump administration could ban judges and prosecutors from entering America, impose financial sanctions on the court and also sanction any country or company that assists in an investigation of Americans.

“We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly 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.”

Bolton has long opposed the International Criminal Court. As President George W. Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control in 2002, it was Bolton who informed then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that the U.S. wouldn’t join the ICC despite signing onto the body during the Clinton administration.

Trump Shuts Palestinians' U.S. Office in Dispute Over Peace Plan

Since Trump took office in January last year, the Palestinians have found few friends in the U.S. administration. Referring to the office’s closing, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said “such irresponsible moves are clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation. The U.S. would do better to finally understand that the Palestinians will not surrender, and that no amount of coercion or unwarranted collective punitive measures will bring the Palestinian leadership or people to their knees.”

The administration has said it’s trying a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after decades of failed peace talks, chipping away at the Palestinians’ key issues as it reshapes U.S. policy. But Palestinian officials view the new administration as biased in Israel’s favor -- and have cut contact with it.

Earlier this month, the administration halted funding of the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees. UN ambassador Nikki Haley said the Palestinians’ major demand -- for millions of their refugees and descendants to return to lost homes in Israel -- should be ruled out, and called for increased pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The U.S. has also moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That was a victory for Israel and a blow to the Palestinians, who say it undermines their own claim to east Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state.

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