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Palestinians file war crimes claim over West Bank hamlet

September 11, 2018
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Palestinians girls sit by newly made shed in the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Israel says Khan al-Ahmar was illegally built and has offered to resettle residents 12 kilometers (7 miles) away. Critics say its removal is meant to make room for an Israeli settlement. Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal last week, paving the way for demolition. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A top official said Tuesday the Palestinians have filed a new complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, after the United States said it would resort to any means to protect its allies against such actions at the international war crimes body.

The move comes a day after the U.S. closed the Palestinian de facto embassy in Washington because of its leaders’ refusal to enter peace talks with Israel. National security adviser John Bolton also lashed out at the Palestinians for their attempts to have Israel prosecuted at the ICC, denouncing the court’s legitimacy and threatening sanctions if it targeted Israel and others.

But at a press conference in Ramallah, Saeb Erekat doubled down by saying the Palestinians have asked the ICC to investigate Israel’s planned demolition of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar in the West Bank. He also indicated the Palestinians plan to join other international bodies.

Erekat said the Palestinians have asked the chief prosecutor to meet with village representatives and include Israel’s actions as part of her investigation into possible war crimes by Israel.

“The U.S. threats against the ICC are a coup against the rules in the international system,” he said. “The Trump administration wants to dismantle the international order to ensure that it can stay above the laws and escape accountability.”

Israel has long denounced Palestinian efforts to globalize their conflict by turning to external bodies with what it considers bogus claims. In particular, it says the ICC lacks jurisdiction because Israel is not a member of the court.

The Trump administration dramatically ratchetted up its rhetoric by threatening sanctions if the court pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel or other allies. Bolton said the ICC “is already dead” to the U.S.

“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense,” he said in a speech to The Federalist Society, a conservative, Washington-based think tank.

The administration also cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington, although the U.S. has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the U.S. administration made the right choice.

“Israel supports the American actions that are meant to clarify to the Palestinians that their refusal to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not promote peace,” he said in a statement at the end of Jewish New Year holiday.

The Palestinians accuse the Trump administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them by blatantly siding with Israel. They say that given the recent moves by Washington, a pending U.S. peace plan will be dead on arrival.

The closure of the PLO office was the latest in a series of moves targeting the Palestinians. Just last month, it canceled more than $200 million in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the remainder of its planned assistance for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees around the Middle East. Over the weekend, it announced it would cut $25 million in assistance for hospitals in east Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinian patients.

“We don’t want confrontation with the U.S., by the way, but how can anyone with all these American decisions, Trump’s decisions, believe that these people can be honest brokers, facilitators in any peace process? They are no longer partners in the peace process,” Erekat said.

He said Israel should be held accountable for its plans for the Khan al-Ahmar encampment, a West Bank hamlet that has focused attention on what critics say is the displacement of Palestinians by Israel. European countries urged Israel this week to refrain from demolition.

Israel says Khan al-Ahmar was illegally built and has offered to resettle residents 12 kilometers (7 miles) away. But critics say it’s impossible for Palestinians to get building permits and that the demolition is meant to make room for an Israeli settlement.

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal last week, paving the way for demolition.

Palestinian activists put up several trailers early Tuesday in protest. Abdallah Abu Rahmeh said the white shipping containers, one with a Palestinian flag, were a message to Israel that “it’s our right to build on our land.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to Washington said his staffers have been given a month to pack up after the U.S. punished them for what the State Department called the Palestinian leadership condemnation of “a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen.”

Husam Zomlot told The Associated Press the closure of the PLO mission would not deter Palestinians from seeking a state with east Jerusalem as the capital.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas halted ties with the Trump administration in December after the U.S. recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The U.S. embassy was later moved there from Tel Aviv.

Zomlot was called home by Abbas in the spring as part of the crisis.

“We lost the U.S. administration but we gained our national rights,” Zomlot said.

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