Palestinians say U.S. closing PLO mission ‘to protect Israeli crimes‘

Palestinian officials have responded to the Trump administration‘s reported decision to close the PLO‘s mission in Washington, D.C. The decision is expected to be announced Monday by White House national security adviser John Bolton in response to Palestinian efforts to prosecute Israel at the International Criminal Court, Reuters reported.

"The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," says Bolton‘s draft text.

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Bolton is also expected to threaten sanctions against ICC judges if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan.

Senior diplomat Saeb Erekat decried the US decision as designed "to protect Israeli crimes" and said that the move would not deter Palestinian legal action against Israel.

"We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying," Erekat said in a statement. "Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, likewise derided the Trump administration move.

“It is ironic that the US is punishing the PLO," she said according to a statement released by her office, "the highest political body that made the commitment to reaching a political and legal settlement of the Palestinian question and that has engaged in negotiations with successive US administrations for decades.

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"Such irresponsible moves are clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation and the rewards, inducements and incentives it provides Israel, as well as a total ignorance of the requirements of a just peace based on international law and respect for human rights."

The PLO‘s Washington mission serves as the Palestinian Authority‘s unofficial embassy to the United States and has played a crucial role in American-led peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The reported American move follows Trump‘s decisions to , cut $200 million in aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and freeze funding for Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem. Trump also unless the PA enters meaningful negotiations with Israel.

Bolton‘s draft speech says the Trump administration "will fight back" if the International Criminal Court formally proceeds with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US service members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan.

If such a probe proceeds, the Trump administration will consider banning judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, put sanctions on any funds they have in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them in the American court system.

"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us," says Bolton‘s draft text.

In addition, the United States may negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering Americans to the Hague court, says the text.

The court‘s aim is to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The United States did not ratify the Rome treaty that established the International Criminal Court in 2002, with then-President George W. Bush opposed to the court. President Barack Obama took some steps to cooperate with it.

"We will consider taking steps in the UN Security Council to constrain the court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute," says Bolton‘s draft text.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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