On September 10, 2018, the United States ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, DC. A statement by the Department of State declared the office closed purportedly because of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to participate in peace negotiations. The same day, US National Security Advisor John Bolton also noted in his speech to the Federalist Society that the United States will not assist or cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and threatened to sanction judges and officials over what he called the court’s attacks on the United States and its ally Israel.
The State Department’s announcement is yet another attack by the Trump Administration on Palestinians and on international law and order. While relations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the US administration have been frozen since Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and order to move the US embassy there, the significance of this recent decision lies in the escalation of attacks and collective punishment against Palestinians. With yet another pro-Israel move by the Trump Administration, the United States has now lost all of what had remained of its credibility as a mediator and leader of the peace process.
The Slim Prospects of “Peace through Force”
The Trump Administration is politicizing aid and trying to blackmail the PLO into accepting the American (yet-to-be-announced) peace deal. However, peace cannot be achieved by force. It has become clear that the Trump team has no strategy and is not interested in peace, let alone a just peace. Weaponizing humanitarian aid and jeopardizing the lives, livelihoods, and basic needs of vulnerable Palestinian refugees is no way to achieve peace.
The Trump Administration’s long-awaited plan for settling the Israel-Palestine question appears to be exacerbating the problems surrounding all final-status issues—instead of resolving them. This approach is akin to treating an illness by killing the patient. The evangelical, Zionist, and right-wing forces in the administration are driving its policy toward Palestine and Israel, and with only one objective in mind: to keep the Netanyahu government and its right-wing allies happy while forcing Palestinians to submit to Israel’s wishes. It is not clear what Trump’s team envisions as the long-term end result, but what is obvious is a coming reality of full-fledged apartheid under US sponsorship and protection.
Moreover, the Trump Administration’s calls for peace are paradoxical. A statement released by the State Department rationalized the decision to close the PLO office by citing the Palestinians’ supposed failure to engage in negotiations with Israel (although no negotiations have been initiated yet) and their condemnation of the US peace plan (which reportedly strips Palestinians of their rights and sovereignty). The statement also confirms that “direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward” and that steps taken by Palestinians at the ICC act to distract from peace. However, it is noteworthy that the United States is the party that has taken unilateral measures and declarations biased toward Israel’s Netanyahu government, ones that not only distract from peace but serve to halt prospects for a lasting peace agreement.
One day later and in a show of defiance, the PLO announced on September 11, 2018 that it had submitted a new complaint to the ICC regarding Israeli plans to demolish the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar and displace its residents. The PLO has also asked the ICC to speed up the probe into Israel’s killing of more than 175 protesters in Gaza since March 2018.
Not surprisingly, blackmailing the PLO into submitting to Israel’s wishes—which are featured in a purported US peace plan that ultimately legitimizes the Palestinians’ oppression—is not working. The Trump Administration will likely continue its policies of strangling millions of Palestinians into further desperation and escalate the political and humanitarian crisis in Palestine and Israel and in the region. This will certainly help in further shielding Israel from criticism and censure as it continues its policies of colonization. In the long run, however, such a plan will threaten US interests and global security.
A Threat to the International Order
Trump’s war on the Palestinians and on vulnerable refugee communities, as well as the US attacks on international organizations, will further discredit the role of the United States in any mediation or peacemaking efforts and will burden the international humanitarian system.
Over the last two years, the Trump Administration has disengaged from international organizations and agreements, in many cases citing Israel as the reason. The decision on Jerusalem, withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, pulling out of UNESCO, defunding UNRWA, cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority, suspending aid to East Jerusalem hospitals that serve Palestinians, closing the PLO office, and threatening to sanction the International Criminal Court are all assaults on international law, order, and consensus and on the humanitarian values they seek to uphold.
The international system—while not perfect and in need of some reform—plays a pivotal role in advocating for international law and holding countries accountable. It remains the primary body responsible for ensuring international order, human rights, and security.
With its recent escalation of decisions that protect Israel’s interests and shield it from accountability, the Trump Administration is essentially isolating itself from the rest of the world and jeopardizing its own interests, professed values, and security. What price the United States will pay remains to be seen.
The immediate effects will be in emboldening Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to expand its plans as it violates international law and Palestinian rights. Trump’s actions may even bolster other war criminals around the world and undermine the role of international organizations in protecting civilians. Threatening the ICC in an effort to protect Israel from investigation essentially puts Israel above the law and represents an attack on victims of war crimes across the world and, fundamentally, on human rights and the rule of law.
The pressure is now on key European powers and other international players to step up, stand up to Trump, and take leadership of the peace process for the sake of human rights, international law, and global security.