Trump Admin Punishes PLO for Trying to Prosecute Alleged Israeli War Crimes in International Court

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On Monday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, announced the administration will close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington as retaliation for the Palestinians’ efforts to bring alleged Israeli military war crimes to the International Criminal Court. Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat called the move “an affirmation of the U.S. administration’s determination to continue its policies of blackmail and extortion and undermining the peace process and the two state solution.” We speak with Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program.

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AMY GOODMAN: And what about the U.S. closing the PLO’s offices in Washington in retaliation for them pushing for Israel to be investigated for war crimes in the Occupied Territories, Jamil?

JAMIL DAKWAR: It follows the same kind of argument. The administration is basically arguing that Israel has conducted—it has a very robust judicial system that would investigate war crimes in Gaza or the West Bank. We know from Human Rights Watch, from Amnesty International, from Israeli organizations like B’Tselem, Palestinian human rights organizations, that there were no full independent investigations into war crimes into Gaza. That’s why the Palestinians sought justice before the ICC. It is because there was no recourse for victims. There was no recourse for people who were killed by bombings in Gaza, by other violations of international law. And that’s been ongoing for a long time, that they decided to take that step of seeking justice at an international level. And yet now the administration is saying—the Trump administration is trying to use the Israeli case as a way to shed also—to kind of protect itself from its own war crimes in Afghanistan and other countries where the CIA had operated black sites.

And I think that, ultimately, it’s about whether this administration will be allowed to breach international law, to act as if it’s a country that does not follow international law. When the United States wants to pursue, use international law, it does so probably very effectively against its adversaries. When it comes to very close allies, it turns to give them a pass. It turns to say, “No, the law doesn’t apply here. They should not be recognized in the jurisdiction of the ICC“—just because it harms U.S. interests. I think that that is an opportunity for us to talk about the United States, whether the United States is really fulfilling and playing a role of a fair and really true champion of human rights, and upholding international law, while we see again and again examples where it is not doing that. It’s actually going to protect those perpetrators of war crimes.

What does that say about other situations of the ICC, for example, that are still pending? The ICC is not just—has about 22 situations that are being—whether it’s ongoing investigations or preliminary investigations, including places like Georgia, with the war between or the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia. They just announced recently a preliminary investigation that will be in the Philippines and the war on drugs and the atrocities that are happening there. What is the message that the Trump administration is sending to those governments as far as the way that they should be treating the ICC, the judges and prosecutors and whoever is assisting those ICC investigations? So, this really goes to the core of fundamental principles of defending human rights and human dignity and fighting impunity.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, Jamil, I wanted to get to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Territories and beyond, 5 million people, the U.S. saying it’s cutting off all funding.

JAMIL DAKWAR: Again, this goes to the pattern of what serves this administration’s political agenda. Does it really serve the interest of—U.S. interest, long-term U.S. interest? Does it really understand the consequences of cutting aid to hospitals in East Jerusalem that are operating, providing cancer treatment to Palestinians? Does it really help to close down the education institutions that help educate refugees?

The U.S. has been a long supporter of many institutions that helped provide aid to refugees, including to UNRWA, and yet it is clearly part of that agenda of attacking refugees, attacking anything that is really standing in the way of Trump’s agenda, of his political priorities, particularly when it comes to its alliance with Israel, when it comes to seeing refugees as enemies rather than people who deserve to seek to have—to seek asylum and refuge and safe haven.

So I think that one has to be really wondering, where is the administration taking—what is the message that is being sent by shutting down aid and cutting aid to humanitarian organizations, by attacking the credibility and the legitimacy of an international court that is upholding international humanitarian law and international law more broadly, particularly in a time when we see that there is more and more war crimes, more and more crimes against humanity committed everywhere, and there is a need for accountability, so that there will be consequences for not just acts of torture, but for much wider-scale atrocities that we’ve seen in other places in the world?

And yet, this administration is saying—following Trump’s dangerous “America first” agenda, it’s trying to abandon, in some ways, some good things that the United States did. After Nuremberg, the United States supported many of the international war crimes tribunals, particularly in the '90s, and led to—leading to the establishment of the ICC. And I think that it's important for us here in America to understand why this matters. Because the ICC, after all, is trying to help preserve humanity. It’s trying to fight impunity. And if the United States will become the enemy of this ICC court, people will have a different view of the United States, and it will have consequences for the United States and its relationship with—particularly with member states in Europe, where they have to abide by the international obligations under the ICC and to defend the ICC and to also cooperate with the ICC.

That will be difficult for the ICC to conduct a thorough investigation, if this investigation that is imminent to be authorized by the pretrial chamber—it will meet a lot of hurdles. But I think it’s important for us to understand that this attack is really unprecedented. It will only make it worse for any future where we can see accountability and justice and where we can see some sort of a deterrent against those governments that are trying to undermine international law and for the sake of their own nationalist or other kinds of interests that are similar to what Trump is trying to do here in the last couple years.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamil Dakwar, I want to thank you very much for being with us, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, speaking to us in New York.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, tennis superstar Serena Williams calls out sexism in U.S. tennis. Stay with us.

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