Closing of PLO Office in DC Decried as 'Vicious Blackmail' While Trump's Continued Attack on Palestinians Called 'Recipe for War'

Palestinian officials on Monday condemned the Trump administration’s decision to shutter the Washington, D.C. office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—part of a broader effort to block International Criminal Court (ICC) probes into U.S. or Israeli war crimes—as “crude and vicious blackmail,” and vowed to continue calling for ICC investigations.

“Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington, D.C. 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.”
—Saeb Erekat, Palestinian diplomat”Such irresponsible moves are clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation,” declared Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee. “The U.S. would do better to finally understand that the Palestinians will not surrender and that no amount of coercion or unwarranted collective punishment measures will bring the Palestinian leadership or people to their knees.”

Her remarks followed reports that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, in a speech he is set to deliver on Monday, will threaten ICC officials with financial sanctions and travel bans if they pursue probes targeting the U.S. or Israel, and address the closure of the PLO office.

The State Department, which announced the closure Monday morning, claimed that “the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” and criticized PLO leadership for rejecting the Trump administration as unqualified to mediate the decades-old conflict. The department noted the decision “is also consistent with administration and congressional concerns” over Palestinian requests that the ICC investigate Israel.

“These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution,” responded Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. “I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes.”

Erekat—who was notified of the forced closure ahead of the public announcement—told the Washington Post the move will not deter ICC probes, and that within 48 hours, Palestinians will submit a new complaint about the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in East Jerusalem.

Shutting down the office—after threatening to do so last year—is just the latest blow to U.S.-Palestinian relations in the Trump era. In a move rebuked by much of the global community, the administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocated the U.S. embassy; Trump also has slashed millions of dollars in funding to an agency that provides essential aid to Palestinian refugees and a network of Jerusalem hospitals that treat Palestinians.