Congressional efforts to shut down the Palestinian delegation office in Washington have garnered only tepid support.
A letter, co-authored by the outgoing and incoming leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from both parties and calling on the President to close the PLO office in Washington, has closed on Friday with only 239 signatures.
The letter came in response to the United Nations November 29 vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, a status strongly opposed by Israel and by the United States.
While not a bad number for a congressional effort, this figure is on the lower end of support for AIPAC-backed initiative. Letters supported by the pro-Israel lobby in recent years easily got more than 300 signatures.
The party breakdown shows clearly more support for the measure by Republicans, with 172 co-signers. Only 67 Democrats signed on.
Why the chilly reception to the anti-Palestinian measure?
In part it had to do with a broader concern that such moves would further weaken Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is already facing a growing challenge from Hamas, and in part it is a result of a lobbying battle led by pro-Israel organizations.
While AIPAC strongly urged members to sign on, other Jewish groups were sending an opposite message. Americans for Peace Now, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and J Street worked to dissuade representatives from joining the letter. “The fact that this letter closed with strikingly fewer signatures than past letters of this type signals a very real shift in the Congressional politics on Israel issues,” said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J Street.
An earlier initiative in the Senate, also calling for the closure of the PLO offices, was taken withdrawn in the last minute due to lack of support.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.