The Trump administration ordered a Palestinian representative office to close today, ending the near 25-year diplomatic presence of the PLO Mission in Washington DC.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters this morning the decision was made after Palestinian leaders refused to “advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” supported by senior White House advisor and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt.
Nauert said Palestinian leaders rebuffed Kushner and Greenblatt’s plan, a comprehensive peace deal that was circulated in recent weeks but never publicly disclosed after pushback from Arab officials.
“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. As such, and reflecting Congressional concerns, the Administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point,” Nauert continued.
Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton is expected to announce the closure in a speech Monday, along with the US government’s plans to impose sanctions on the ICC if it proceeds with investigations against the US or Israel, The Washington Post reported, citing an advanced copy of Bolton’s speech.
“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,” the draft text reportedly said.
Last year, the US said it would close the PLO office in Washington as a punitive measure after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes.
Trump eventually backtracked, restricting the office’s activities to “efforts to achieve peace with Israel.”
Israel’s “wish list”
While the PLO Mission in Washington DC was opened in 1994 in the course of negotiations with Israel under the Oslo Peace Accords to advance a two state solution, Nauert said the closure today does not detract from that path.
“The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward. This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement,” she said.
Reaction in Ramallah were harsh. The PLO ambassador to the U.S. Husam Zomlot, who was recalled to the West Bank last May after the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem opened, said today in a statement the move is “reckless” and bends to Israel’s “wish list.”
Zomlot added the Trump administration was punishing Palestinian leaders for pursuing a war crimes investigation into Israel at the International Criminal Court where it has submitted dossiers on alleged Israeli crimes against humanity.
“We stand firm in our decision not to cooperate in this ongoing campaign to liquidate our rights and cause. Our rights are not for sale and we will block any attempts at bullying and blackmailing us to forgo our legitimate and internationally endorsed rights,” Zomlot said.
Zomlot added shuttering the office is an affront to peace process and charged the U.S. of “undermining the international system of legitimacy and legality.” He vowed to “step up” efforts in the international community, “this confirms to us that we are on the right track,” he said.
The Palestinian government officially suspended contact with US officials after Trump recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, sparking widespread protests among Palestinians, who see occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state.
The PA has since boycotted Trump’s peace plan — the so-called “deal of the century” — chiefly authored by his son-in law Jared Kushner, whose family has been linked to the funding of illegal Israeli settlements.
PA spokesperson Yousef al-Mahmoud said in a statement that the closure of the PLO office “is a declaration of war on efforts to bring peace to our country and the region,” and further encourages the Israeli occupation violations against Palestinian human rights in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the move “part of the open war waged by the US administration and its Zionist team against our Palestinian people, their cause and just and legitimate rights.”
“It is a continuation of US policy of dictates and blackmail against our people in order to force them to surrender,” the statement continued.
The move comes on the heels of a series of blows dealt by the administration to Palestinians. Over the past month, the US has ended all aid to UNRWA, cut $200 million in funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and cut $25 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.
Officials in the Trump administration have also recently publicly questioned the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which is enshrined under international law.
Palestinians have already begun to feel the effects of the massive US budget cuts, particularly in Gaza, where a growing humanitarian crisis has worsened in recent months.
In July, hundreds of UNRWA employees were laid off as a direct result of US budget cuts. Last month, thousands of cancer patients in Gaza were left in limbo when hospitals closed the doors to their oncology departments, citing severe chemotherapy drug shortages as a result of the worsening Israeli siege on Gaza.
“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,” Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
“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,” Erekat said.
“Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington DC means much more than a new slap by the Trump Administration against peace and justice; it symbolizes the U.S. attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO and the Human Rights Council among others,” Erekat said.