The White House signaled Monday its Jared Kushner-led Middle East peace pact has stalled, making clear it is ready to buck yet another international organization.
The administration’s move against the Palestine Liberation Organization comes as that organization is set to ask the International Criminal Court to look into some Israeli actions in the region. It also is intended to send a message to Palestinian leaders as talks toward a peace pact have made little progress.
White House national security adviser John Bolton made the announcement Monday, saying “Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
“While the court welcomes the membership of the so-called ‘State of Palestine,’ it has threatened Israel — a liberal, democratic nation — with investigation into its actions to defend citizens from terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Gaza,” Bolton said. “There has also been a suggestion that the ICC will investigate Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank.”
The action against the PLO is a blow to Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Kushner, who has been one of the top U.S. officials trying to broker talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Just last week, Trump had this to say on a Rosh Hashanah call with Jewish faith leaders: “My connection to Judaism is also personal. I am the very proud father of a Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and my son-in-law, who I’m very proud of also. I will say that very loudly.”
Some of Trump’s public votes of confidence for senior advisers and Cabinet officials in the past have been followed by their dismissals.
About an hour before Bolton spoke, the State Department formally announced the closure, saying “the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
Echoing President Donald Trump, Bolton said the United States will “always stand with our friend and ally, Israel.” And he described the facility’s closure as “reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.”
In recent years, some Republican lawmakers have called for the PLO office to be closed. That list includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Cruz and Trump have warmed what was a very chilly relationship during the 2016 GOP presidential primary and Meadows talks to him regularly.
‘Dead to us’
The crux of Bolton’s luncheon speech was to signal Trump’s intention to go after yet another global entity, this time the ICC.
The top White House national security official called the court “illegitimate,” and said the administration intends to shutter the PLO’s main diplomatic facility in Washington. “The ICC is already dead to us,” he said.
“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said. He dubbed the ICC a “super-national tribunal” and called it “dangerous.”
The organization’s top goal is to hinder the United States and its leaders’ efforts to “keep it secure,” he said.
The ICC has reportedly been preparing to launch an investigation into possible war crimes by U.S. military and intelligence personnel during the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
“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,” he told the conservative Federalist Society in a midday speech.
Should the court move ahead with the probe, the Trump administration plans to punish judges by banning them from entering the United States, prosecuting them in American courts, and targeting any funds they have in the U.S. financial sector.
Bolton also threatened any country — friends and foes alike — that works with the court.
“We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels,” he said.
Both moves come about 60 days before the midterm congressional elections, with races in many districts and states likely coming down to turnout. International bodies like the PLO are unpopular with Trump’s conservative base that he has been trying to get out for November. The Palestinians are as unpopular with the same voters as Israel is popular.
Despite the president’s increasingly routine attacks on the Justice Department, FBI, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Speical Counsel Robert S. Mueller, Bolton’s address emphasized their common thread.
“We believe,” Bolton said, “in the rule of law — and we uphold it.”
In recent days, Trump has called on Sessions to investigate his political critics, including the author of an anonymous New York Times op-ed penned by a senior administration official that suggested a widely held feeling inside the government that Trump is unfit for the job.