Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday Tuesday night by praising the “correct decision” made by the United States earlier in the week to shut down the offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington.
“The U.S. made the correct decision regarding the PLO mission in Washington,” the prime minister said. “Israel supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace.”
The U.S. State Department announced the official decision on Monday and gave the Palestinian office a month to pack up.
“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel… To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said the shuttering of PLO offices in Washington was also prompted by Palestinian attempts to instigate an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.
“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense,” Bolton was quoted as saying in a draft of his speech.
In a 2017 address to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the International Criminal Court, “to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials” over Israeli settlement activity, he said.
Israel and the U.S. believe the ICC has no jurisdiction over matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians called the U.S. decision “bullying.”
“This dangerous escalation shows that the U.S. 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,” said Saeb Erekat, who vowed the Palestinians would not “succumb to U.S. threats and bullying.”
“Lowering the flag of Palestine in Washington D.C. means much more than a new slap by the Trump administration against peace and justice,” Erekat said. “It symbolizes the U.S. attacks against the international system as a whole, including the Paris Convention, UNESCO and the Human Rights Council among others.”
The head of the PLO mission in Washington, Husam Zomlot, denounced the closure as a way “to protect Israel from war crimes, crimes against humanity that Israel is committing in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
“Part of it is bullying,” Zomlot said. “But the main part of it is just going ahead and implementing the grocery list that was submitted to them by Netanyahu.”
The decision comes after three consecutive weeks of U.S. funding cuts to the Palestinians. In recent weeks U.S. President Donald Trump canceled $300 million in aid money for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) and $200 million in humanitarian aid earmarked for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in recent weeks. The U.S. had been UNRWA’s largest contributor donating around $350 million.
This week, the U.S. also stopped financial aid to six hospitals in East Jerusalem — a decision made under the Taylor Force Act, which intends to halt economic aid to the Palestinian Authority until it ceases to pay stipends to terrorists and to the families of deceased terrorists.
Trump said recently that the cuts have been made in order to push the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Last week Trump, speaking to leaders of the Jewish community in America, said that he plans to “stop the transferring of large funds to the Palestinians” and blamed them for disrespecting the America’s generosity.
“I say this: you will get the money, but not before we sign a deal with Israel. No deal—no money,” said a transcript of a White House conversation. “I don’t think that sanctions are unrespectable. When you refuse to sit for negotiations—that isn’t respectable to me.”