Washington, DC – The Trump administration’s decision to shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, DC, is “denying the Palestinians as people” and further jeopardising the peace process, analysts warn.
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the administration’s decision in a speech on Monday, saying the PLO had “not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”.
He said the PLO leadership had instead “condemned a yet-to-be-seen US peace plan and “refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise”. The administration has also threatened the International Criminal Court with sanctions if judges open an investigation into the US or Israel.
Palestinian officials have described the decision as a “declaration of war on efforts to bring peace … to the region”.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the decision was “yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people”.
The move is being seen by analysts as another blow to the Palestinians in a chain of events that have favoured the Israeli government at the expense of Palestinians, adding to the potential of unrest and violence.
The administration of US President Donald Trump recently said it was cutting more than $200m in economic aid to the Palestinians. It also recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last year and moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this year.
Over the past year, Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, has questioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ commitment to peace.
“The [Trump administration] has changed the parameters of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been dealt with in recent years,” said Ian Black, a visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics.
While the decision carries a multitude of implications for a peace process, Black said the most significant of those has been the weakening of any kind of mechanism to produce a settlement to the conflict or a two-state solution.
“It is worth pointing out that the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is more likely than any other to come to some kind of two-state solution with Israel,” he said. “But he has been pushed to react furiously to American moves. [There will] no longer be a fair mediator in the conflict. Abbas has been pushed beyond limits on this.”
While a long-term effect of the decision would be tingeing the international commitment to a two-state solution, he said a risk of instability and violence was possible in the short-term.
“Everyone remembers the split screen of the beautifully orchestrated ceremony at the embassy opening and the 60 people shot dead in Gaza,” he said.
Author Khaled Diab, who has spent the last decade in frequent visits to the Palestinian territories, said the idea of a two-state solution has long diminished in the minds of many.
For the first time, he said, Palestinians are now running in municipal elections after previous boycotts and more are applying for Israeli citizenship.
“Even if there is a two-state solution, it would collapse very quickly,” Diab said.
Although the latest move has angered many Palestinians in the West, those in the occupied Palestinian territories are less likely to react, he said. The cutting of aid, however, was one that could have a knock-on effect leading to unrest.
Although the decision could be an attempt to pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept the yet-to-be-released peace deal, experts have said it was a “foolish” idea.
“Shutting the office is denying [Palestinians’] self-determination, denying them as people,” James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said. “It’s a more far-reaching decision than closing an office down. We are back to the period of ‘no such thing as Palestinians’ mindset.
“The PLO did not create the Palestinian movement – it embodies the national movement. If Palestinians agree to whatever is offered – which seems to be wholly inadequate, they will no longer be in leadership.”
Erekat said in a statement on Monday that the PLO will take necessary measures to “protect the rights of our citizens living in the United States to access their consular services”.
Zogby suggested that a representative from the PLO may be housed by an Arab country mission in the US to continue to offer consular service, operating the same way it did before the PLO had an official office in the US capital.
A few analysts also drew comparisons of the office closure to the pre-Oslo period before Israel and the PLO signed an agreement in 1993.
Diab said dealing with the PLO as a pariah and terrorist organisation and not a representative of the people was resetting relations to a pre-Oslo period.
“We can see it in the rhetoric already, the administration saying they are not committed to the peace process,” he said. “We are moving toward a situation where the Americans abandoned even the rhetorical commitment to the Oslo process … what they are going to do is present a deal so unacceptable to the Palestinians and use it as a further pretext to shut down any mechanisms for peace negotiations beyond the Oslo lines.”
As Palestinians are forced to accept a halted peace resolution and an unlikely two-state resolution, experts expect a dynamic shift as more Palestinians demand citizenship and equal rights on par with their Israeli counterparts.
“We are already seeing early signs of this,” Diab said. “Palestinian are disappointed. They have been let down by their occupation, the international community, and their own leaders.”