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Congress petition to close PLO's US office 'won't pay off'

Dec. 14, 2012 2:14 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 6:49 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian ambassador to Washington DC said Thursday that a congressional petition to shut down their delegation's office could harm American interests in the Middle East.

The letter, calling on US President Barack Obama to "respond strongly" to the PLO's successful effort to upgrade its status at the UN, was circulated to members of the House of Representatives this week for co-signatures.

The letter asks Obama to close the PLO office in Washington, recall the US consul-general in Jerusalem and reaffirm the US' commitment to withdraw funds from any international organizations that Palestine joins as a member.

It is sponsored by the current Republican leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, her successor Edward Royce, as well as the leading Democrat committee member Howard Berman and his successor Eliot Engel.

Palestine's pursuit of the UN vote on Nov. 29 "violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums," the lawmakers wrote.

Palestinian leaders argue that Israeli settlement expansion also violates the 1993 Oslo Accords which established interim Palestinian self-government. In total 138 states voted to admit Palestine a non-member state at the UN. Israel, the US, and seven others voted against the upgrade.

PLO envoy in Washington Maen Areikat told Ma'an on Thursday that the lawmakers' petition to Obama is an "attempt by Congress to undermine the US administration in any possible role it is planning to play in Palestinian affairs."

"Trying to actually sever ties with the PLO delegation in Washington will definitely affect open channels and communications between the US and the Palestinian people," he said.

Closing the PLO office would "harm US credibility and standing in the Middle East at this crucial time during transitions in the area ... (and) impact the regional role of the US in the future," Areikat continued.

The letter is supported by AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby group, while American Jewish groups J Street and Americans for Peace Now have come out against the effort and urged representatives not to sign it.

Areikat says he understands that "the number of signatures is piling, and it will increase with AIPAC endorsement." However he noted that the US Congress is currently focused on America's economic situation during its short "lame duck" session.

"The real fight will be early next year, this is just a rehearsal," he told Ma'an.

"It is a political decision, a decision on the part of the Israeli government to escalate things against the Palestinian people at home and here ... the US is their other front," he said.

Areikat continued: "Punitive measures won’t pay off. If they were effective we would have already changed our mind."
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