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Trump administration orders closure of Palestinian office in DC

WASHINGTON — National security adviser John Bolton announced Monday that the Trump administration is shuttering the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington because “the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

The State Department has instructed the PLO “to vacate the property not later than October 10.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat acknowledged that a U.S. official had notified the mission about the pending closure.

“This is yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education,” he said in a statement.

Relations between Palestinian officials and Washington chilled considerably in December, when President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pledged to move the U.S. Embassy there.

Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt have been working to craft a “deal of the century,” as the president described his dream Middle East peace plan. However, Palestinian leaders have refused to participate, and the administration has tried to make it increasingly painful for them to stay away from the bargaining table.

In August, the White House withheld $200 million in expected aid to a United Nations relief agency that provides education and health services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The U.N. agency lamented the move as “an evident politicization of humanitarian aid” that “risks undermining the foundations of the international multi-lateral and humanitarian systems.”

James Carafano, of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, said giving the Palestinians money wasn’t working.

“If we can’t get your attention by being nice to you, maybe we’ll get your attention doing the opposite,” he said.

Erekat, however, responded, “We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying.”

He then called on the International Criminal Court, or ICC, to investigate “Israeli crimes.”

The mission closure announcement was embedded inside a full-throated jeremiad delivered by Bolton to the right-leaning Federalist Society. In it, Bolton challenged the ICC as an unaccountable international body that would deny the United States, Israel and other countries that never agreed to fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction the ability to choose their “means of self-defense.”

Bolton has been a critic of the international court since it was established in 2002. In November, before Trump installed Bolton in the White House, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal about an ICC prosecutor starting an investigation into “alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Afghanistan since mid-2003.

The “largely unspoken, but always central” goal of the ICC, Bolton warned, was to “constrain the United States” and target “America’s senior political leadership.”

Bolton delivered his address at the Mayflower Hotel, where Trump delivered his first major foreign policy speech in April 2016. Bolton noted, “At the time, candidate Trump promised he would ‘always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else.’”

In that spirit, Bolton warned that if the international tribunal goes after the U.S., Israel or other American allies, the administration could withhold financial and military assistance from countries that cooperate with ICC probes aimed at American citizens and allies, ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S. and even prosecute them as criminals.

“The Trump administration’s threat to criminally prosecute and sanction International Criminal Court judges and prosecutors is straight out of an authoritarian playbook,” responded Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The unprecedented threat comes as U.S. officials face, for the first time, the specter of full criminal investigation by the court for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, which is an ICC member.”

For his part, University of California, Berkeley law school professor John Yoo, an attorney in the administration of former President George W. Bush, said the ICC can do little about the world’s bad actors.

“If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s tanks roll into the Baltics, the ICC is not going to stop him,” he said.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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