Congress May Pull Plug on PLO Over Statehood

Are Pro-Israel Lawmakers Grandstanding or Serious?

Premature Celebration? Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the Palestinian statehood win at the United Nations. But pro-Israel lawmakers are looking for ways to punish him for the audacious move.
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Premature Celebration? Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the Palestinian statehood win at the United Nations. But pro-Israel lawmakers are looking for ways to punish him for the audacious move.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 24, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
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Congressional supporters of Israel, seeking to punish the Palestinian Authority for its recent drive for recognition by the United Nations as an observer state, have set their sights on a conveniently local and long-standing target: the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington.

Earlier in December, a legislative proposal to downgrade the status of the PLO’s Washington delegation failed in the Senate following the U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming vote in November to upgrade the diplomatic status of the Palestinian Authority in defiance of Washington and Jerusalem’s wishes. Undeterred, prominent House members are now pushing for a similar measure, backed by the pro-Israel lobby.

The initiative, an almost routine move when Palestinians take actions against the will of Israel and the United States, is a carefully calculated punitive step. Targeting the PLO delegation is viewed mostly as a means to signal displeasure with the Palestinians, while refraining from truly substantive changes in policy, such as closing down diplomatic and financial support from the United States for the P.A.

“This is no more than posturing,” said Philip Wilcox, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. “It shows how congressmen are willing to bow to the wishes of (the Israel lobby) knowing the legislation will not go anywhere.”

Shortly after the November 29 vote at the U.N. General Assembly granting the Palestinians status as a nonmember observer state, Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming sought to insert amendments to the defense spending bill that would have cut aid to the P.A. and closed the PLO office in Washington.

The measure was ultimately removed before the vote on the bill in the face of opposition to the provision from the Obama administration, vigorous lobbying against it by the dovish J Street lobby and a lack of active support for the proposal from the more powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee pro-Israel lobby.


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