Trump closing PLO office in Washington invites Palestinian extremism

Trump is systematically alienating the Palestinians and upsetting many others in the Arab world.
Wednesday 26/09/2018
A security guard enters the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office two days after President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton announced that the State Department would close the PLO office in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2018. (Reuters)
A security guard enters the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office two days after President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton announced that the State Department would close the PLO office in Washington, U.S. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump has ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington, the closest thing the Palestinians have to an embassy in the United States, drawing criticism from numerous diplomatic sources and killing what little chances there may have been of reviving the dormant Middle East peace process.

Ordering the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) mission in Washington comes on the heels of Trump cancelling a badly needed financial assistance package given yearly to the beleaguered Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Those funds were used to pay for health-care and education programmes.

That move followed Trump ordering the transfer of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which removed one of the main points of future peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump’s policy regarding the issue of the future of a Palestinian state is very dangerous.

Trump is systematically alienating the Palestinians and upsetting many others in the Arab world. What Trump is doing is extremely precarious, pushing the Palestinians to the brink of extremism and into the arms of the Islamists. The Hamas leadership must be rejoicing over this latest let-down from the United States. Also probably rejoicing are the Russians, who were the principal supporters and weapons suppliers of the PLO.

The outcome of Trump’s punitive policy of disfavouring the Palestinians does not hold any positive prospects for their future in the West Bank and even fewer chances of a better life for those in Gaza.

With Iran knocking on the door, hoping to influence the political discourse in the Palestinian territories, this is no time to leave a vacuum in a part of the world that remains precarious.

This potentially explosive political cocktail contains nothing very promising for the future of an eventual Palestinian state nor does it hold anything good for the future of Israel. The last thing Israel wants is the arrival of Iranian influence on its borders.

Iran is present along Israel’s northern border, thanks to the complicity of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has a presence militarily in Syria. It is to a lesser degree active in Gaza but, if the PLO were to break with Washington, it could place Iranian agents in the West Bank, creating a very serious threat to the Jewish state.

It has taken American diplomats in the Middle East and elsewhere decades of behind-the-scenes, careful and meticulous negotiations with friends and allies to reach the point where a minimum level of trust was established between Washington and the Palestinians. In one quick move, Trump dismantled all that hard work and, in essence, invited the Palestinians to flirt with the Russians and quite possibly revive the notion that negotiations will lead to nowhere and that the solution may come from "armed struggle." That would be disastrous.

The PLO mission in Washington is the de facto Palestinian embassy to the United States. By shutting it down, the United States is demonstrating to the Palestinians that it has no interest in being a moderator in the peace process and is only looking out for Israel’s interests.

The “Trump administration's policy is to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services, including health and education," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement.

Closing the PLO office in Washington will leave the Palestinians without a formal presence in the US capital. Erekat said the "dangerous escalation shows that the United States is willing to disband the international system to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region.”

The Trump administration has said it was cutting $25 million meant for East Jerusalem hospitals and putting the money towards "high-priority projects elsewhere."

This is Trump's approach to making friends and enhancing US prestige around the world.