WASHINGTON — The Trump Administration ordered the close of the PLO office in Washington DC this week.
“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, 2017,” State Dept. spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the announcement Monday, Sept. 10.
“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.
“As such, and reflecting Congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”
The announcement also linked the closure to “Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.”
On Wednesday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan-yahu praised what he called the “correct decision” by the US at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, which was delayed by three days due to the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
“The Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations with Israel even as they attack Israel with false claims in international forums,” he said.
“Israel very much appreciates the Trump administration decision and supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that the refusal to enter into negotiations with Israel and the unbridled attacks against Israel will not only not advance peace but will certainly not make things better for the Palestinians.”
Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the US, condemned the decision and said in a statement issued Monday that “we are not surprised.”
“Such a reckless act confirms that the administration is blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list,’ which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the US,” Zomlot said.
“This confirms to us that we are on the right track. We will step up our efforts to hold Israel accountable under international law, continue building international alliances for peace, double our efforts to reach out to the American people as we witness the transformational change in American public opinion in support of the Palestinian cause and our legitimate rights.”
The closure follows a month in which the US announced that it would cut more than $200 million for humanitarian and development aid in the West Bank and Gaza; halt all funding to UNRWA, the UN refugee agency that aids Palestinians; and halt funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, made up of six hospitals.
On Monday in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton confirmed the closure of the PLO office and called the International Criminal Court an “illegitimate court.”
“If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” he said.
Bolton added that “The US will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
He called the ICC “ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous,” and said that the court “is already dead to us.”
“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 in the West Bank and Gaza to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks,” Bolton also said, reiterating that the “US will always stand with our friend and ally Israel.”
The Trump administration froze $25 million in funding to Palestinian hospitals in eastern Jerusalem.
The decision to halt funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, made up of six hospitals, came on Sept. 8, a week after the US announced that it would halt all funding to UNRWA.
A week before that, the Trump administration said that the US would cut more than $200 million for humanitarian and development aid in the West Bank and Gaza.
President Donald Trump earlier this year requested a review of all US aid to the Palestinians, threatening to cut off aid unless the PA agreed to enter into serious peace negotiations with Israel.
The PA has angered Trump by refusing to work with his administration in developing a peace plan. The Palestinians walked away from the talks in December after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“As a result of that review, at the direction of the President, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network,” a State Department official told Reuters.
“Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere.”
Several of the hospitals are church-run, and have relationships with Israeli-run hospitals in Jerusalem.
“This dangerous and unjustified American escalation has crossed all red lines and is considered a direct aggression against the Palestinian people, including the humanitarian aspect, since it threatens the lives of thousands of Palestinian patients and their families, and could affect the future and livelihoods of thousands of employees of these hospitals,” the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Israeli security officials reportedly are concerned that the withdrawal of so much aid to the Palestinians could harm Israeli security, in part by fomenting a major humanitarian crisis and collapse in Gaza.
Senior Israeli officials are scheduled to attend an UNRWA donor nation conference in late September in New York where they will call for the establishment of a parallel channel for foreign aid to Gaza including food aid, operation of UNRWA and salaries to the agency’s 30,000 employees, according to Haaretz.