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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In contrast to its neutrality during the push in the Senate to actually cut aid to the P.A., AIPAC is actively backing the House move, which has made targeting the Palestinian delegation a cornerstone of its response to the U.N. recognition. “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,” the group said in a statement immediately following the U.N. vote.

On December 13 a spokesman for AIPAC confirmed that the lobby was backing the House members’ letter. Nevertheless, the House letter received only lukewarm support, closing on December 21 with 239 co-signers, 12 of them Republican and 67 Democrats. While still an impressive figure, the number of signatories is lower than that most AIPAC-backed letters receive. Recent congressional letters on issues relating to Egypt, Iran and the Palestinians all had more than 300 co-signers.

“I was shocked and disappointed to see people who I’d sat with regularly in the past two years signing a letter urging members of Congress to close our office,” Areikat said, referring to AIPAC’s lobbying.

To a great extent, the Palestinian ambassador’s response reflects the dichotomy of the relationship between the pro-Israel community and the PLO. Despite recent tensions, AIPAC and other Jewish groups maintain an open dialogue with Palestinian representatives, including those affiliated with the PLO delegation in Washington. The pro-Israel community has notably refrained from calling for a cut in financial aid from the United States to the Palestinian Authority, or for severing ties altogether.

Meanwhile, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the Union for Reform Judaism have actively opposed even the more symbolic move of closing the office. In a statement, the URJ criticized the measure as an action that “would undercut the prospects for renewing the peace process leading to a two-state solution.”

From a practical standpoint, the chances of any action against the PLO delegation are slim. The House letter is not binding, and without congressional legislation it is up to the White House and the State Department to determine the level of Palestinian representation in the United States. The administration has made clear to Congress that it does not wish to see any action taken against the Palestinian delegation. But that may only underline the cost-free political value pro-Israel House members see in pushing their proposal.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman


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