US ‘to close Palestinian mission in Washington’
The US is to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s mission in Washington, Palestinian officials say.
The PLO is the internationally-recognised representative of the Palestinian people. It opened its office in the US capital in 1994.
PLO secretary general, Saeb Erekat, called the planned move a “dangerous escalation”.
The US national security adviser, John Bolton, is set to announce the closure in a speech.
He will reportedly cite the Palestinians’ efforts to persuade the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Israeli crimes, and their “refusal” to resume peace talks.
US President Donald Trump is preparing to unveil a long-awaited Middle East peace plan, but Palestinian officials have refused to engage with his envoys since he controversially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
Why is the Palestinian mission being closed?
Last year the US state department warned the mission that under US law it faced closure if Palestinian leaders continued to urge the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged violations of international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
In May, the Palestinian foreign minister formally asked the ICC’s chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation, saying he had “ample and insurmountable evidence”.
Israel – which like the US has never ratified the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute – dismissed the move as a “cynical step without legal validity”.
In a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington on Monday, Mr Bolton is expected to say the US will close the PLO’s mission in retaliation against its activities at the ICC.
“The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel,” he will say, according to a draft seen by the Wall Street Journal.
“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organisation, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”
How have the Palestinians responded?
In a statement issued before Mr Bolton’s speech, Mr Erekat said: “This dangerous escalation shows that the US is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region.”
“We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying and that we will continue our legitimate struggle for freedom, justice, and independence, including by all political and legal means possible.”
Mr Erekat insisted Palestinians would continue to call upon the ICC to open a full investigation.
There was no immediate response from the Israeli government.
What other steps has the US taken?
On Saturday, a state department official said that following a review President Trump had ordered that $ 25m (£19m) allocated for the care of Palestinians at six hospitals in East Jerusalem “go to high-priority projects elsewhere”.
The head of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network warned on Monday that the decision to cut funding put “the health of five million Palestinians at risk”.
The hospitals offer health services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza which the Palestinian health ministry is unable to provide, such as cancer care, cardiac and eye surgery, neonatal intensive care and children’s dialysis.
Two weeks ago, the US said it was ending hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for the UN agency that provides assistance to five million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
Officials said UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) was an “irredeemably flawed operation” whose “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable”.
Unrwa rejected the claims, saying it provided vital services and that it was the duty of all parties to reach a peace deal that solved the issue of refugees.