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U.S. to close Palestinian office in Washington, citing lack of progress on peace process with Israel

By Missy Ryang the Pentagon, Anne Gearan Karen DeYoung

The Trump administration has ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington because the PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the State Department said Monday.

The decision follows an extended period of estrangement between the Palestinian Authority government on the West Bank and the administration, which has already canceled most U.S. aid to Palestinians and recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Those moves earlier this year provoked Palestinian withdrawal from talks over a still-to-be-released U.S. plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“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,” the statement said. The office has been instructed to close no later than Oct. 10.

Palestinian officials vowed to fight what they called bullying tactics and “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.

“These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes.”

In announcing the closure, the State Department said it was “consistent with” concerns about Palestinian calls for an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court. Neither the United States nor Israel recognizes the ICC, and existing U.S. legislation calls for closure of the PLO office following any Palestinian move to use it against Israel.

The latest move against the Palestinians comes as the administration Monday threatened to punish individuals who cooperate with the ICC in a potential investigation of U.S. wartime actions in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the decision.

White House national security adviser John Bolton, in remarks prepared for delivery in a lunchtime speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian policy group, outlined threats of sanctions and a ban on travel to the United States for people involved in the attempted prosecution of Americans before the international court.

Bolton is a longtime opponent of the court, on grounds that it violates national sovereignty. Saying the court was “fundamentally illegitimate,” he called it “an assault on the constitutional rights of the American people and the sovereignty of the United States.”

His speech, titled “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty From International Threats,” is Bolton’s first formal address since joining the administration in April.

The measures Bolton laid out include banning ICC judges and prosecutors from the United States, imposing sanctions on their funds in the U.S. financial system and prosecution in U.S. courts. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans,” he said, according to the prepared remarks. He also proposed measures including strengthening existing agreements with other countries to shield U.S. personnel from international prosecution.

As for any other countries that “cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies,” he said, “we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance and intelligence-sharing levels.”

Bolton’s announcement is closely related to concern at the Pentagon and among intelligence agencies about potential U.S. liability to prosecution at the court over actions in Afghanistan, said a senior administration official who was familiar with aspects of the forthcoming announcement.

The ICC investigation of U.S. wartime actions represents exactly the kind of infringement on U.S. sovereignty that Bolton and other opponents of the court have long warned about, the official and others said.

“It’s a much more real policy matter now because of the potential liability in Afghanistan,” the official said, adding that other nations have similar concerns.

The Trump administration has questioned whether the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens for actions in Afghanistan, because Afghan, U.S. and U.S. military law all could apply in different situations, the official said.

The new broadside against the ICC follows steps by the administration challenging international cooperation in other areas. This year, the administration has withdrawn from the U.N. human rights body and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization, in addition to halting U.S. funding for the U.N. body that aids Palestinian refugees.

Bolton’s speech comes two weeks before President Trump will attend the U.N. General Assembly, where he will address other world leaders. U.S. officials have said Trump will focus on U.S. claims about the threat posed by Iran and will reiterate his opposition to the international nuclear deal with Tehran. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May.

Read more: U.S. to close Palestinian office in Washington, citing lack of progress on peace process with Israel

Source: Washington post

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