US announces closure of PLO office, threatens sanctions against ICC
The Trump administration announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Washington on Monday and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the United States, Israel, or other allies.
Despite Palestinian objection, the US State Department unveiled the decision to close the Palestinian diplomatic mission in a statement released Monday noon, citing the lack of "steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."
The decision was also linked with US concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court, according to the statement.
Shortly after the State Department announcement, John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, followed up in his speech at a conservative think tank in Washington.
"The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuses to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," he said.
Bolton also threatened to impose sanctions against judges and prosecutors of the ICC if it pursues investigation against the United States, Israel or other US allies.
In his harshly worded remarks, the former US ambassador to the United Nations called the Hague-based international body "ineffective, unaccountable" and "outright dangerous," threatening to block the ICC personnel from entering the United States and even prosecute them if it charges US military members serving in Afghanistan over war crimes.
"We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans," Bolton added.
In his speech, which has been earmarked as his first major public address after taking the post, Bolton also reaffirmed the US full support for Israel, a stance which has been widely seen as seriously undermining Washington's credibility as a mediator for the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talk.
Senior Palestinian officials, who have been informed earlier by the Trump administration about the decision to close the office, have strongly condemned the US latest move, calling it "reckless" and "bullying."
"We don't think this is just about bullying ... we believe this is about the implementing of Israel's grocery list," said Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian representative to Washington, in an interview.
Zomlot also described ties between the United States and the Palestinians at a "historical low."
US media reported on Saturday that the Trump administration "will be redirecting approximately 25 million US dollars originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere."
In response, the Palestinian side denounced the move as "an act of political blackmail," saying it would cause "serious instability and grave harm" to thousands of patients and their families across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The upcoming US decision will be the latest in a trove of US funding cuts against the Palestinians.
In August, the US State Department announced a decision to "redirect" economic aid to the Palestinians that are worthy of more than 200 million dollars.
Later, it announced it would not provide assistance funding any more for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Palestinian officials have said that the US move comes in line with Trump's attempt to ignore the final issues of the Palestinian-Israel peace process and remove the issues of Jerusalem and refugees "off the table."
The United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December last year, sparking global outcry.