PLO Office in DC Open Despite Legislation

US State Dept. has decided to keep PLO office in Washington open for another six months, despite legislation deeming it illegal.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The U.S. State Department has decided to keep the office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington open for another six months, despite anti-terrorism legislation deeming it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests, The Hill reported.

The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the Palestinian Authority succeeded in obtaining non-member observer status at the United Nations in November, despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel.

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, prior to the U.N. vote.

Both parties' leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent President Obama a letter in December urging him to close the PLO's Washington office in retaliation.

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states, in reference to the UN bid.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community at the time, the lawmakers asserted that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums, a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.”

“One important way of expressing U.S. disapproval would be to send the message that such actions are not cost-free and that, at a minimum, they result in setbacks to U.S.-Palestinian relations,” they wrote, according to The Hill. “We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our consul-general in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps.”

The letter was spearheaded by the incoming chairman and ranking member on the committee, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), as well as outgoing leaders Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

In response, Chief representative of the PLO in Washington had warned U.S. lawmakers against retaliating for November’s statehood bid, maintaining that doing so would only hurt U.S. credibility in the region.

“[A]llow me to point out a fact that may escape some of you: the genie is already out of the bottle; it cannot be put back in,” Maen Rashid Areikat wrote in a letter. “There is no action that can be taken by anyone, Congress included, to change our UN status.”