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‘Collective punishment’ and ‘blackmail’: Palestinians decry Trump decision to shutter PLO office in Washington

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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.

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

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.

“Collective Punishment”

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.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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27 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan on September 10, 2018, 2:14 pm

    We know Kushner is Jewish. I presume Greenblatt is Sunni Muslim because it wouldn’t be fair to have 2 Jews representing the US in peace negotiations.

    The whole thing is such a pantomime.People like Catalan have no interest in peace
    . Israelis are even worse.

    • catalan on September 10, 2018, 4:20 pm

      “People like Catalan have no interest in peace” maghla
      Where do you get that from. It’s like saying, I have no interest in curing cancer. Peace is awesome – war sucks. Humans need peace to build civilization, draw paintings, make movies, and just plain old have fun. That said, just because I want cancer cured, doesn’t mean it will be cured; it also doesn’t mean that I have to agree with your path to curing it.
      I do think that the idea of a “single state” is utopian, wrong, and unworkable. I just don’t see any plan for peace right now that is feasible. That’s just my personal opinion.

      • Maghlawatan on September 10, 2018, 4:48 pm

        It is a single state and it is broken.
        I just can’t see how the status quo is sustainable.

      • bcg on September 10, 2018, 6:01 pm

        @Catalan: ok, forget “peace”. How about not closing the doors on peace in the future? From Commanders For Israel’s Security:

        … the question is whether Israel aspires to leave open the possibility of future negotiations towards a two-state solution, or it will act towards closing this option by expanding isolated settlements and entering an unstoppable process towards a bi-national state situation. … Israel must not jeopardize its existence by embarking on rash unilateral initiatives that would radically worsen its security situation …

      • Misterioso on September 11, 2018, 11:32 am

        “I just don’t see any plan for peace right now that is feasible.”

        The root cause of the inability of the entity known as “Israel” and the Palestinians to achieve peace is because with the full support of the Trump administration, armed to the teeth occupier “Israel” will only agree to a peace settlement based on its retention of most of historic Palestine, including East Jerusalem, cleansed of its indigenous Arab inhabitants.

      • catalan on September 11, 2018, 12:25 pm

        “is because with the full support of the Trump administration, armed to the teeth occupier “Israel” will only agree to a peace settlement” Misterioso
        To quote a great movie, you know that’s just like, your opinion. You may verbalize it in faux-academic style (one of the reasons few professors can write popular books), but it’s still an opinion.

      • Maghlawatan on September 11, 2018, 2:16 pm

        It is a fact. You can polish the turd all you like. Israel is only interested in everything . It has no answer to the Palestinian question because the Palestinians were supposed to have left by now.

  2. HarryLaw on September 10, 2018, 2:25 pm

    The UK and US are forever berating Russia for violating the ‘rules based International order’ this is a joke, the US has trashed International law in the Middle East first in Iraq then in Libya and now its illegal occupation of Syria and jettisoning of the Iran deal plus its illegal Jerusalem embassy move. As far as the US is concerned International law does not exist. If it did Israel as the occupying power would be responsible for ensuring both the West Bank and Gaza [the UN still regard Gaza as occupied territory] had all its needs taken care of. Unfortunately we now live in a world where might is right or as Thucydides said “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”. Fortunately Germany and others have agreed to make up most of the shortfall to Palestinian funds Trumps moves in the Middle East especially in Syria are a recipe for disaster.

  3. Talkback on September 10, 2018, 3:59 pm

    “The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward.”

    That’s like believing in direct negotiations between a hostage taker and its victim, while mainly supporting the hostage taker.

    And now they are shutting off the victim, because it wants to take the hostage taker to court.

    What a deeply perverted sense of justice.

    • Misterioso on September 11, 2018, 11:20 am

      @Talkback, et al

      The “direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward.”

      However, the “direct negotiations,” dictated by the entity known as “Israel” and the Trump administration (lets not forget paymaster Sheldon Adelson), are comparable to an imaginary scenario in which peace negotiations between Nazi Germany and occupied France during WWII would have been based on Germany retaining and incorporating huge portions of France.

      • Jon66 on September 11, 2018, 2:39 pm

        It’s more like a scenario where after the surrender of Germany, the Allies occupied Germany. Then while the occupation is in place the Allies annex Eastern German territories into Poland and the Soviet Union. They fired Germany to accept the new borders.

      • Talkback on September 12, 2018, 9:26 am


        Nah. It’s more like a scenario in which terrorist seperatists take over a country and expell a major part of its population, because of their faith and to create a fake majority, then declare statehood within certain borders, wage another war, occupy more territory, expell more people, illegaly annex territories outside of their declared borders and illegaly settle in them. And then they clame that they want peace with the occupied population and if they don’t direct directly they will keep them under martial law and violating their fundemental human rights forever.

        Appalling, isn’t it? If that’s not unique in history it should be called Zionism. I can’t think of a worse insult than to call it this way.

      • Jon66 on September 12, 2018, 7:20 pm

        I’m just not seeing that.

      • Talkback on September 13, 2018, 10:59 am

        Jon66, yes, it’s called cognitive dissonance.

      • Mooser on September 14, 2018, 12:47 pm

        “Jon66, yes, it’s called cognitive dissonance.”

        “Jon 66” , it’s like saying “The patient died, but the operation was a success”.

  4. Boomer on September 10, 2018, 7:21 pm

    Sad news in several respects. For Palestinians, obviously. But for the U.S. too. Trump has done many things that adversely affect America’s standing in the world. This step ranks high among them. It was no surprise that Trump and Bolton would attack the ICC both to avoid dealing with charges against Americans, but also to defend “our ally” Israel. Still, we (and the world) would have been better off had they chosen another course of action. Even without joining the ICC, they could have avoided a confrontation had they wished.

    PS: On a personal note, I started a serious effort to learn more about the history and politics of the Middle East after 9/11. I read many good books, but perhaps the single most transformative experience for me was a short course of lectures presented at the PLO’s office in DC. I was so naive before that: I actually looked to Tom Friedman as a source of sage wisdom and unbiased knowledge on the subject. It is sad to know that even this small Palestinian presence, this small reason for hope, could not be tolerated.

    • Sibiriak on September 10, 2018, 10:29 pm

      Boomer: Trump has done many things that adversely affect America’s standing in the world.

      Indeed , Trump has taken all the sugarcoating off the American-led capitalist/militarist world order, which is not helpful in sustaining that order.

  5. JLewisDickerson on September 10, 2018, 11:40 pm

    RE: ‘Collective punishment’ and ‘blackmail’: Palestinians decry Trump decision to shutter PLO office in Washington

    MY RHETORICAL SNARKCASM: What will the Trump Crime Syndicate come up with next?!?!

    • annie on September 11, 2018, 1:31 am

      What will the Trump Crime Syndicate come up with next?!?!

      trump doesn’t come up w/this stuff — he follows orders.

      • CigarGod on September 11, 2018, 2:32 am

        We know he is the greatest ever, so he must be Lord…as soon as the dead rise.
        He’s just afraid to touch a door knob like the rest of them.

  6. Marnie on September 11, 2018, 8:24 am

    Jared Kushner had it closed because he was locked out of the nafta hen party and someone laughed.

  7. Boris on September 11, 2018, 4:25 pm

    “Collective punishment”, “blackmail”…

    I am surprised they did not call it “massacre”…

  8. FightTribalism on September 12, 2018, 9:53 am

    This news is actually good news for Palestinians and a blow to occupation. That is because Palestinian Authority is just a subcontractor of the occupation. Israel offloaded all of the obligations of civilian administration of occupied people to PLO, while keeping all of the perks of occupation like killing people, displacing them and imprisoning them.

    Not only that, but Israel takes money from Palestinian civilians to pay Palestinian authority so Palestinians are paying and administering their own occupation while Israel keeps all of the control.

    And then PA, that is paid by Israel with money stolen from Palestinian individuals, is supposed to give away right of those Palestinians in a negotiations that would legalize illegal Israeli gains.

  9. just on September 12, 2018, 12:21 pm

    Diana Buttu, today:

    “I Advised the Palestinian Negotiating Team. It Was a Mistake to Have Negotiated With Israel at All

    Buoyed by the Oslo Accords, I moved to the West Bank as a legal adviser to the PLO team. I was wrong. 25 years since that iconic Arafat-Rabin handshake, it’s clear talks are futile – and Palestinians are no closer to freedom …

    … But while I and others worked to end occupation others worked to entrench it, including the Israeli government and its settlers: within the first seven years after the negotiations began, Israel used incentives to nearly double its settler population. Today, the settler population is more than three times the size it was in 1993, with nearly 700,000 settlers living in the West Bank. …

    I am often asked why the negotiations process failed. It is easy to point to the rise of right-wing Israeli governments, poor leadership or weak or uninterested U.S. presidents. But the real reason for failure lie beyond these factors.

    It is because the parties should not have started negotiating in the first place.

    To demand that Palestinians – living under Israeli military rule – negotiate with their occupier and oppressor is akin to demanding that a hostage negotiate with their hostage taker. It is repugnant that the world demands that Palestinians negotiate their freedom, while Israel continues to steal Palestinian land. Instead, Israel should have faced sanctions for continuing to deny Palestinians their freedom while building illegal settlements. …

    … But, rather than recognize the mistake of negotiations, the world continues to demand that we continue the facade even though negotiations irrevocably broke down more than a decade ago. The negotiations process has, in effect, served as cover for the world to do nothing – while giving Israel the cover to build and expand settlements.

    If peace is to be achieved, it must entail costs – and this time, not shouldered by the Palestinians. Rather, Israel must receive the strong message, the first in its history, that settlements will no longer be tolerated but rather reversed, and that Palestinians must be free.

    I am under no illusions that the Trump Administration will put into place such sanctions. While previous administrations tried to maintain a semblance that they were helping “both sides,” Trump has come decidedly in support of Israel’s right-wing pro-settler movement.

    Whether by declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or by attempting to extinguish the right of return, President Trump has shown that his “deal of the century” will undoubtedly accommodate Israeli settlements, take away Palestinian rights and reward Israeli wrongs. The closure of the PLO office in Washington D.C. this week is yet another check on Israel’s wish list.

    For Israel and its supporters, the past 25 years have been a victory. With Trump at the helm, Israel’s settlers are at an all-time high, Palestinians are confined to bantustans and the U.S. is cracking down on Palestinians for demanding their freedom.

    But this short-term fix has long-term implications. While Oslo changed the lives of a generation of Palestinians, this generation and the next have certainly learned its lessons: that negotiating is futile, and that our rights cannot be compromised. With this, it is only a matter of time before we begin struggling for equal rights in a single state, rather than press for statehood.”

    • Maghlawatan on September 12, 2018, 1:54 pm

      I don’t think the last 25 years were a victory for Israel. Having Bennett as justice minister does not look like victory. Israel broke its own society to hang onto the settlements. Israeli discourse has nothing in common with that of any other OECD country. Israelis are paranoid and teach their kids to hate. That is not winning.

  10. Kay24 on September 13, 2018, 3:26 am

    Adelson/Kushner plans at work:

    “The UN said Wednesday that the situation in Gaza was “catastrophic” after 11 years of “economic siege” and warned that Washington’s decision to halt assistance to Palestinian refugees would create “more misery”.

    “The situation in Gaza is becoming less and less livable,” said Isabelle Durant, the deputy head of the United Nations development agency (UNCTAD).” Juan Cole.

    This is the most ridiculous and blatant effort by zionists in American clothing, to enable Israel to finally push for their goal, to make it ALL theirs. Kushner’s so called Middle East “peace” process is embarrassingly biased, and only a fool would think it would help the Palestinians.


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