The U.S. State Department announced Monday that it will be closing the Washington D.C. office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
In a statement, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert cited concerns over the PLO’s attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel from the International Criminal Court as a justification for closing their Washington headquarters.
The PLO is Palestine’s official representative in the U.S. Its Washington office serves a similar function to an embassy, although it does not officially have that status because the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state.
Nauert also claimed the PLO has not done enough to engage in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
In a statement released Monday, PLO executive secretary Saeb Erekat called the move a “dangerous escalation,” and “a new slap by the Trump Administration against peace and justice.”
“We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying,” Erekat said.
Erekat also vowed the PLO will continue to call upon the ICC to open an immediate investigation into supposed war crimes committed by Israel.
The State Department’s announcement came just hours before national security advisor John Bolton gave a speech condemning the ICC over its treatment of the U.S. and Israel.
“We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly 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,” Bolton said an address at the conservative Federalist Society – his first speech as a national security advisor.
Bolton also threatened the U.S. will consider sanctioning the ICC and said Washington will do everything in its power to oppose investigations of the U.S. and Israel.
In November, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda submitted a formal request to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by U.S. military members in Afghanistan – charges Bolton claimed Monday are unfounded.
Palestinian authorities have pressed the ICC to open an investigation into Israeli military activities in Gaza and the West Bank since joining the organization in 2015. Following an expansion of Israeli settlements in 2017, the PLO has made a renewed push to get the court to look into Israeli policies and actions in Palestine.
The closure of the PLO’s Washington office is just the latest of several policy changes the Donald Trump administration has made towards Palestine in recent months.
In August, the administration announced it would cut hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for organizations who provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
…peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
Trump officially recognized the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, sparking protests that resulted in the deaths of dozens of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli snipers.
The United Nations maintains that Israel’s territorial claims to the East Jerusalem “have no legal validity” under international law.