Palestinian officials on Monday vowed not to bend to what they called the Trump administration’s bullying tactics after being notified that their office in Washington would be shut down as part of an effort to block cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he was officially notified of the decision, which is expected to be announced by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton later Monday. He decried the move as a continuation of a policy of “collective punishment” by the Trump administration.
“These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two state solution,” he said. “I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes.”
The United States last year said it would close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes. However, he later backtracked on the decision, advising the Palestinian leadership to limit the office’s activities to efforts to achieve peace with Israel as the Trump administration prepares its long-awaited peace plan.
But as that happens, U.S. moves to pressure the Palestinian leadership have driven the relationship to crisis point. In a series of blows to the Palestinians, the United States has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved its embassy there and cut funding to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees. Then, last week, Washington said it would withdraw $25 million in support from hospitals in East Jerusalem.
In his speech Monday, Bolton will threaten to impose sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it proceeds with investigations against the United States or Israel, The Washington Post reported Monday, citing an advanced copy of his speech.
The United States would ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the country, sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, prosecute them in the courts, the report said.
However, Erekat said that the Palestinian leadership would double down in its efforts and would submit a new complaint to the ICC within 48 hours over the Israeli Supreme Court decision to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
He said that the United States is not “part of the peace process” and doesn’t even have the right to “sit in the room” during any negotiations, dismissing U.S. officials such as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, as a “group of settlers” pursing a right-wing Israeli agenda.
Husam Zumlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative to the United States accused the White House of attempting to do irreversible damage to the U.S.-Palestinian relationship that would be hard for any future administration to repair.
As well as checking off a wish-list of Israeli demands, such as recognizing Jerusalem, it shows that the United States is attempting to preempt Israel’s fears over international prosecution and a more favorable attitude toward Palestinians among young Americans. He described U.S. efforts to block investigation of Israel at the ICC as an “onslaught against international legality”.
The United States is not a member of the ICC but cooperated with the court under the Obama administration. Israel is also not a member. Despite vehement Israeli opposition, Palestine was admitted as a member state in 2015. Since then, it has lodged complaints over the expansion of Israeli settlements and alleged war crimes during the 2014 Gaza War and the use of sharpshooters during protests in Gaza this year.
The latest U.S. moves show that Palestinian efforts to pressure Israel through international institutions are working, Zumlot said.
For Palestinians, though, U.S. cuts are beginning to bite. This year, the United States has held back $300 million in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), which provides education, health care and food aid for more than 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, largely the descendants of those displaced when Israel was created in 1948.
Israel has accused UNWRA of perpetuating the conflict by supporting the descendants of refugees with their “right of return,” which Israel considers a major stumbling block to peace.
U.S. officials have also said that they will freeze $25 million in funding to six east Jerusalem hospitals that primarily serve Palestinians. Largely church run, they traditionally serve as the main providers of care for Palestinians referred for treatment for procedures not available in the West Bank and Gaza.
Bolton’s announcement is likely to be widely welcomed by the government in Israel, which was on holiday Monday to mark the Jewish New Year.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee described the action as a form of “crude and vicious blackmail”.
“Such irresponsible moves are clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation,” she said. “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.”