Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during an interview with Reuters, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on September 10 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during an interview with Reuters, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on September 10 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN

Washington — The US has decided to close the Palestinian mission in Washington in the latest move against them by President Donald Trump, a Palestinian official said on Monday, denouncing it as a "dangerous escalation".

John Bolton, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, was expected to announce the move at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, where he will denounce the court for investigating the US over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

"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.

"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."

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.

Trump has since pledged to withhold aid from the Palestinians until they return to the negotiating table as his White House seeks to craft a plan for Middle East peace — what he has called the "ultimate deal."

In recent weeks, the US has cut more than $200m in bilateral aid to the Palestinians as well as cancelled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The US is also angered by a Palestinian bid to have Israel investigated for war crimes at the ICC.

The decision to close the mission comes just ahead of the 25th anniversary of the first Oslo accord on September 13, sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn and meant to lead to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

War crimes

The US is set to adopt an aggressive posture against the ICC in The Hague on Monday, threatening sanctions against its judges if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan.

Bolton is to make the announcement in a midday speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group, in Washington.

It will be his first major address since joining the Trump White House.

"The US will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton will say, according to a draft of his speech seen by Reuters.

Bolton is also expected to announce the closure of the Palestinian office in Washington.

"The US will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," Bolton’s draft text says.

There was no immediate response from Israel, where government offices were closed for the Jewish new year.

Bolton’s draft speech says the Trump administration "will fight back" if the ICC 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 US, put sanctions on any funds they have in the US financial system, and prosecute them in the American court system.

"We will not co-operate 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 US 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 to the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The US did not ratify the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002, with then-president George W Bush opposed to the court.

Barack Obama took some steps to co-operate with it when he was president.

"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.

Palestinians have reacted with dismay to the US funding cuts, warning that they could lead to more poverty and anger — among factors stoking their decades of conflict with Israel.

AFP and Reuters