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But on December 10, four top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee revived the issue in a letter to President Obama. Signed by the committee’s outgoing leaders, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), and by the committee’s incoming chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), and future ranking Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the letter urged Obama to send a strong signal to the Palestinians, following the U.N. vote, “that such actions are not cost-free.”
“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C.,” the House members said. “We can also call our consul-general in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps.”
To Maen Rashid Areikat, head of the PLO Washington delegation, such ritual exercises show that “some members of Congress spearheading these efforts don’t believe in a dialogue and open communication.” In a December 14 interview with the Forward, Areikat argued that such measures would harm interests of the United States, not just those of the Palestinians. “Whose interests will it serve? No one’s,” he said. “How can the U.S. advance peace if it’s not dealing with the Palestinians?”
The Palestinians’ official presence in the United States has evolved over many years, starting with a PLO information office that opened in 1978, when the policy of the United States prohibited any contact between American officials and the PLO, then designated as a terrorist organization. After the United States launched a diplomatic dialogue with the PLO in 1988, the PLO office became the Palestine Affairs Center. The office gained upgraded recognition following the 1993 Oslo Accords, and in 2010 it received its current designation as the PLO General Delegation. With this recognition, the office received permission to fly the Palestinian flag over its offices in Washington’s Dupont Circle.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, defended the congressional letter calling for action against the PLO’s diplomatic representatives. “When they violate agreements, when they describe Israel as a war criminal when it is defending itself from thousands of rockets, we think they should be taken to task on it,” Oren told the Forward.