Whether the Trump administration’s announcement on Rosh Hashanah that it was closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, its de facto embassy, was orchestrated for dramatic effect, it was perceived as another Trump administration action in support of Israel and rebuke of the Palestinians.
The move, announced on Sept. 10, came on the heels of the administration’s slashing more than $200 million in humanitarian and development funds in the West Bank and Gaza, ceasing payments for Palestinian refugee social services through the United Nations agency UNRWA and stopping monetary support to six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. Those actions, and Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May, didn’t win many Palestinian hearts and minds
But playing hardball is the administration’s tactic to get the PLO to come to the table for serious peace negotiations with Israel.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the Rosh Hashanah announcement that “the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. To the contrary, 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.”
Reaction to the announcement of the closure, which is to take place within 30 days, was swift from all corners.
AIPAC pointed to the PLO’s attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court for its support of the closure. The pro-Israel lobby in a statement said the action is in line with legislation that mandated the PLO mission close if it moved against Israel in the ICC.
“The PLO itself triggered the law’s required closing of the office by pursuing efforts at the International Criminal Court to isolate and delegitimize Israel,” the AIPAC statement said.
Also applauding the announcement, the National Council of Young Israel said the administration “made the right move” in closing the mission and cutting Palestinian aid, sending a message to the PLO that its “recurring role as an antagonist to Israel and an impediment to peace will have real ramifications.”
“It is fitting that the decision to close the PLO Mission was made on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, when we are judged for our actions and G-d determines our fate for the year ahead,” the group said.
And the Zionist Organization of America “strongly praised President Trump and his administration for starting the Jewish New Year right” by announcing the closure. “It is clear that the PLO … only wants the destruction of the Jewish state. “
But others said the continued censure and reduction of support for Palestinians would further inflame tensions and snuff out prospects for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami called the closure a Trump administration “gift” to those opposed to a two-state solution.
“One by one, this administration is kicking the legs out from under any possible negotiating table,” Ben-Ami said. “The record makes clear that any ‘peace’ proposal coming from this administration is nothing more than a sham. No serious person who cares about the security and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians will buy it.”
The Israel Policy Forum said the move, following nearly 30 years of bipartisan American policy on peace and aid in the region, sets a dangerous precedent.
“Future administrations may view the Trump White House’s actions as license to either further support an Israeli far right agenda or to tack completely in the opposite direction,” according to the group. “The extreme steps being taken by the Trump administration serve not only to upend Israeli-Palestinian relations, they also place the long-term strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship at risk.”
Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said it isn’t clear what it would take to get the funding restored or the PLO office reopened.
“The Trump administration seems determined to punish and humiliate the Palestinians and their leadership,” Nir said. “Trump and his aides did not indicate what needs to happen for them to reverse their measures.”
But American diplomats were aware of what it would take for the PLO to drop its claims against Israel in the ICC, he said.
“Under President Obama, there was an understanding, brokered by Secretary Kerry, that Palestinians would put their international efforts on hold pending diplomatic efforts to relaunch the peace process,” Nir said. “I think it’s safe to assume that once the Palestinians see a credible diplomatic process with a two-state solution on the horizon, they would halt their international initiatives.”
Nir said he isn’t optimistic that that will be the result of the peace plan the administration says it’s working on.
“Based on what we’ve seen from Trump and his team so far, what they will offer — if they eventually put an offer on the table — will be a non-starter, dead-on-arrival plan,” he said.
Susan C. Ingram is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times. JTA News and Features contributed to this article.