US threatens sanctions against International Criminal Court, will close PLO office in Washington

US national security adviser John Bolton announced Monday that the US will use "any means necessary" to prot...

Posted: Sep 11, 2018 12:41 PM
Updated: Sep 11, 2018 12:41 PM

US national security adviser John Bolton announced Monday that the US will use "any means necessary" to protect its citizens and allies from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

"United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," including tariffs and prosecution, Bolton said in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington, DC.

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Bolton blasted the ICC as "ineffective, unaccountable," "outright dangerous" and "contrary to American principles," and said the US "would respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by US law."

"We will ban its financial system and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans," said Bolton, a former ambassador to the UN.

Bolton said the US would "take note" of other countries' cooperation with the ICC and "will remember that cooperation when settling US foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels."

He also said the administration "would consider taking steps in the UN Security Council" to "constrain" the Netherlands-based court, whose jurisdiction the US does not recognize.

Bolton also hailed the closure of the PLO office in Washington and said the US "will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel's right to self defense."

The State Department officially announced the decision to close the office in a statement Monday.

"We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017," department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the statement. "However, 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," Nauert's statement continued.

The statement added that the decision was "consistent with the administration's and congressional concerns about Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.

The PLO slammed the US administration in advance of the expected announcement, and said it had already been notified by the White House of the decision.

"This dangerous escalation shows that the US is willing to disband the international system in order 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," PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

"It is also extremely cruel and spiteful to persist in deliberately bashing the Palestinian people by denying them of their rights, giving away their lands and rightful capital of Jerusalem, and defunding UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) and Palestinian institutions, including East Jerusalem hospitals," fellow PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.

The head of the PLO delegation to the US, Husam Zomlot, condemned the closure of the mission "in the strongest terms" in a statement Monday, saying the Trump administration was "blindly executing Israel's 'wish list,' which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the US."

"The administration's reasoning for such an act is the refusal of the Palestinian leadership and the PLO Delegation to the US to cooperate with the so-called 'peace efforts' and our actions to hold Israel accountable by referring it to the International Criminal Court," Zomlot said. "We stand firm in our decision not to cooperate in this ongoing campaign to liquidate our rights and cause. Our rights are not for sale and we will block any attempts at bullying and blackmailing us to forgo our legitimate and internationally endorsed rights."

In the statement, Zomlot said the Trump administration aimed to "protect Israel from unlawful acts, and provide it with full immunity to kill the two state-solution." The statement also vowed to "step up our efforts to hold Israel accountable under international law, continue building international alliances for peace, double our efforts to reach out to the American people as we witness the transformational change in American public opinion in support of the Palestinian cause and our legitimate rights."

Over the weekend, the US announced it would redirect $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network as part of its review of US aid to Palestinians.

Six hospitals will be affected including the Lutheran World Federation's (LWF) Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), which serves over 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the hospital's website. The AVH also provides specialized care not available in the Palestinian territories including radiation therapy for cancer patients and pediatric hemodialysis, according to the website.

In a statement posted online, the LWF said it regretted the US announcement on the hospitals, adding that funding for the facilities was critically important.

"The funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network is critical to ensure ongoing, lifesaving treatment for patients from the West Bank and Gaza," said Rev. Dr, Martin Junge, LWF general secretary. "We call on the US Administration and the US Congress, in the spirit of the exemption introduced in the Taylor Force Act, and the international community to urgently address this critical situation to ensure that the lifesaving treatments can continue uninterrupted."

The Taylor Force Act is a law passed by Congress earlier this year that linked future US funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to a demand that the PA end its policy of paying a stipend to "terrorists serving in Israeli prisons, as well as to the families of deceased terrorists." The law's proponents said the payments were an "incentive to commit acts of terror" -- but the law exempted US funding for East Jerusalem hospitals.

Last month, the US also announced it was cutting all funding to the UNRWA, the UN agency that provides schools and healthcare services to more than five million Palestinian refugees, leaving the agency with a shortfall of $300 million.

The US onslaught against the ICC is the latest challenge from the Trump administration to international institutions. This year alone it has left the UN Human Rights Council and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization. Last year the US withdrew from the Paris climate agreement.

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