US ups pressure on Palestinians, closing Washington mission


RAMALLAH: The United States has decided to shutter the Palestinian mission in Washington in the latest move against them by President Donald Trump, a Palestinian official said Monday, denouncing what he called a “dangerous escalation”.

The closure comes as Trump seeks to force the Palestinian leadership, which has cut off contact with the White House, to negotiate with his team pursuing a plan for Middle East peace — something the US president has termed the “ultimate deal.”

The United States has also been angered by a Palestinian bid to have Israel investigated for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Palestinian officials say the reason given for the closure was their stepped-up campaign at the ICC.

“We have been notified by a US official of their decision to close the Palestinian mission to the US,” Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary-general Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

“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.”

Under longstanding American law, permission for the PLO to maintain its mission in Washington must be renewed every six months.

US officials say Palestinian leaders have breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the ICC in The Hague.

The United States had already threatened to close the office in November.

The decision comes just ahead of the 25th anniversary of the first Oslo accord on September 13, which was famously sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn and raised hopes of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO mission in Washington, told journalists in Ramallah that the closure was “to protect Israel from war crimes, crimes against humanity that Israel is committing in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Both Erekat and Zomlot pledged to push forward with Palestinian efforts at the ICC, where the chief prosecutor has already opened a preliminary probe into the allegations.

The White House had not yet commented on the mission’s closure, but the Wall Street Journal reported US National Security Adviser John Bolton was due to announce it in a speech later Monday.

The Palestinian leadership cut off contact with the Trump administration after the US president recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.