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“Congress has frequently warned the PLO that there would be consequences for its relationship with the United States if the PLO refuses to demonstrate its commitment to peace with Israel,” AIPAC said. “Congress has specifically linked continued aid and the operation of the PLO office in Washington to the Palestinians not seeking statehood status at the United Nations. AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington.”
Yet the sequence of congressional amendments introduced this week that would penalize the Palestinians for seeking statehood seemed, if anything, to retreat from punitive to wait-and-see.
Earlier this week, a slate of Republican senators led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would cut assistance to the Palestinians immediately and shut down the PLO office in Washington. The NDAA does not otherwise address the Palestinians, but the act is the most immediate vehicle for passage of legislation, as both Houses of Congress are frantically trying to pass major budget bills to head off the so-called fiscal cliff.
By Thursday morning, however, just hours before the U.N. vote, Barrasso had joined a separate Palestinian spending initiative, and one likelier to pass, spearheaded by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). That amendment to the NDAA would cut assistance to the Palestinians only if they use their new U.N. status to bring charges against Israel. The new amendment would shut down the PLO office in Washington only in the case that the Palestinians have not entered into “meaningful negotiations” with Israel.
A lawmaker on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee told JTA that the House was likely to initiate a similar wait-and-see bill. The lawmaker characterized it as a bid to see if the Palestinians would make good on suggestions that they were not in a hurry to bring charges at the International Criminal Court, and that a successful show at the United Nations could create the conditions necessary to bring the Palestinians back to talks.
In an interview earlier this month, Maen Areikat, the PLO envoy to Washington, told JTA that the U.N. vote would mitigate the factor that has kept the Palestinians from talks until now: Israel’s continued settlement expansion. The vote, recognizing “Palestine” as within the pre-1967 lines, would grant the Palestinians assurances that lands they claim have international recognition, even if Israel continues to build Jewish settlements there.