Friday, January 11, 2013

Close the PLO office in Washington

Close the PLO office in Washington

Elliott Abrams

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has begun to use “State of Palestine” on all official documents, stationery, and stamps. This is “to implement the resolution of General Assembly of the U.N. on Nov. 29 to recognize Palestine as a nonmember state,” according to the official Palestinian news agency.

There is a Palestinian office in Washington — but it represents the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the “State of Palestine” or the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank and receives millions of dollars in American aid. That PLO office is doing most of the things an embassy does. According to its website, it has a Government Affairs Department that “is responsible for strengthening the relationship between the PLO and the U.S. government’s executive branch,” a Congressional Affairs Department that is “in charge of reaching out to and building relations with both the House and Senate,” and a media, public affairs and community outreach office. The key difference is the name: “PLO Delegation” rather than “Embassy of Palestine” or “Palestinian Authority Delegation.”

Why not have a State of Palestine Embassy? Simple. There should not be an Embassy of Palestine because the United States does not believe there is today a State of Palestine. American policy is that there should some day be such a state, but as the product of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that concludes with a final status agreement.

Then why not be happy with the status quo, a PLO office? First, the PLO is a group with a long terrorist history. Second, even today the PLO Charter (1968) is filled with pernicious nonsense about “the basic conflict that exists between the forces of Zionism and of imperialism on the one hand, and the Palestinian Arab people on the other,” and relies on concepts like “commando action,” the “Arab masses” and “popular liberation war.”

Its outlook is summed up in this line: “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine and everything that has been based upon them are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood.”

All of this led Congress in 1987 to forbid a PLO office:

"It shall be unlawful ... Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, to establish or maintain an office, headquarters, premises, or other facilities or establishments within the jurisdiction of the United States at the behest or direction of, or with funds provided by the Palestine Liberation Organization or any of its constituent groups, any successor to any of those, or any agents thereof."

As Congress permitted, however, that provision has been waived repeatedly by President Barack Obama (as it had been by Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton). In 2010, Obama even upgraded the PLO office’s diplomatic status. But that was before the U.N. General Assembly magically turned the “nonstate observer” called the PLO into the “nonmember state” called Palestine. That event ought to give us pause, and lead us to re-think whether a PLO, rather than PA, office is a good idea.

In addition to the PLO’s historic baggage and its offensive charter, a third reason to stop dealing with the PLO is that it is a nondemocratic body. The PA is theoretically a democratic one whose leadership is chosen through popular elections. Of course that’s highly theoretical, because the last national elections were held in 2006 and the terms for the entire parliament and Abbas expired long ago. Still, isn’t accepting the hypocrisy of the PA about democracy preferable to honoring the unreformed, hopelessly compromised PLO, in whose charter the word “democracy” does not even appear?

It isn’t as if doing so would contravene the practices of the Palestinians themselves. Back home in Ramallah, Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki hasn’t been calling himself “foreign minister of the PLO.” Rather, his website says he is “foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority;” and the PA’s main website says the same thing. Moreover, under the Palestinian “Basic Law,” the PA president and not the PLO chairman, “is the commander in chief of the Palestinian forces,” “shall appoint and terminate the services of the National Authority’s delegates to foreign countries, international organizations and foreign agencies,” and “shall accept the credentials of foreign delegates to the Palestinian National Authority.”

No doubt there are contradictions here: The PA was established under the Oslo Accords and granted jurisdiction only over domestic affairs. The language of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement outlining the structure of the new PA specifically said its “jurisdiction does not include foreign relations.” Perhaps for that reason, the Palestinian official theoretically charged with negotiating with Israel, Saeb Erekat, is not a PA official: he is still called the head of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (whose website makes it clear that it is a PLO, not a PA, body). Some of those contradictions may become even more convoluted now, with the Palestinian leadership proclaiming a State of Palestine. Perhaps the foreign minister with now be called foreign minister of the State of Palestine rather than foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps there will be an effort to change the names of all the overseas delegations from “PLO” to “State of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, some members of Congress have been trying to force the closing of that PLO office in Washington. After the U.N. vote in late November, Senators Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso tried unsuccessfully to amend the defense spending bill to close the PLO office; in December the outgoing and incoming chairmen and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Obama asking him to do the same. Of course, these members of Congress are not suggesting substituting a State of Palestine embassy or a PA office for the PLO office — just closing the PLO office down.

But it would be foolish today to forbid all Palestinian representation in Washington. Our officials deal with Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad every day. The PA (not the PLO) governs the West Bank and receives millions of dollars in American aid. We view the PA (not the PLO), officially, as the embryonic government of the future Palestine. But it is long past time to stop issuing the waivers, close the PLO office, and deal with the PA in a straightforward manner.

If “reconciliation” brings Hamas back into the PA’s ranks, U.S. government lawyers may conclude in 2013, as they did in 2006, that the PA is controlled by a terrorist group. All aid would likely be suspended based on law and policy. That would be the moment to close the office entirely. Now’s the time to end the PLO official presence in Washington.

[It is a good article about the contradictions between the functions of the PLO and the PA, but he doesn't mention that the PA answers to the nondemocratic PLO.- EoZ]