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Trump Administration Closing Diplomatic Mission That Represents Palestinians In D.C.


The Trump administration is closing down the diplomatic mission that represents Palestinians in Washington. The U.S. has also been cutting aid - hundreds of millions of dollars - for Palestinians and for the U.N. agency that helps them. This is all meant to pressure them to negotiate with Israel, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Trump has been promising the deal of the century to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So far, his administration has taken steps that support Israel's position - recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and questioning the definition of a Palestinian refugee. Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton now says the U.S. is closing down the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO.


JOHN BOLTON: The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel.

KELEMEN: Palestinians see the move and the aid cuts as collective punishment. Diana Buttu, a lawyer who once advised Palestinian negotiators, puts it this way.

DIANA BUTTU: What we're talking about here is blackmail. And what the administration is saying is that unless the Palestinians succumb to what Israel wants, then the United States is going to be hitting Palestinians with a very hard stick.

KELEMEN: The Palestinians say they plan to move ahead with their efforts to gain international diplomatic recognition and challenge Israel in the International Criminal Court. But Bolton, a longtime critic of the ICC, told the Federalist Society today that the U.S. will do whatever necessary to shield Americans from the court and allies like Israel.


BOLTON: While the court welcomes the membership of the so-called state of Palestine, it has threatened Israel, a liberal democratic nation, with investigations into its actions in the West Bank and Gaza to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks. There has also been a suggestion that the ICC will investigate Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank.

KELEMEN: He was referring to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territory. Bolton says the ICC is, quote, "dead to us." Lawyer Diana Buttu says the Trump administration wants to upend the international order.

BUTTU: The fact that the United States is willing to back Israel to the point where they're even preventing law from taking effect shows you exactly where this Trump administration is taking us. And what they're saying is that power is right. Might is right - not law, not justice, but might is right.

KELEMEN: A former ambassador to Israel Edward Walker sees domestic politics at play. He says the Palestinian diplomatic post, which is being shut down, wasn't really influential, but it was a symbol that Palestinian statehood was possible. He doesn't see a lot of room for maneuver for the Palestinians now.

EDWARD WALKER: I don't think they have many options at this point. They are boxed in. They haven't got a great deal of support in the Arab world. Every leader has his own problems right now. And they aren't putting a lot of emphasis on this largely because they don't think this administration is actually serious about wanting to have an agreement.

KELEMEN: The State Department blames Palestinians for not taking steps to, quote, "advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel" - no word yet on when the Trump administration will unveil its peace plan. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.