The flag of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was hoisted above the PLO's offices in Washington, D.C. Tuesday and the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee quickly criticized the act.
Raising this flag in D.C. is part of the Palestinian leadership's scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, said in a release.
The Palestinian leadership's ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the U.N., is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments, she said.
PLO envoy Maen Areikat, in a statement at the flag raising, said the act means the Obama administration is serious about its expressed desire for an independent Palestinian state.
It's about time that this flag that symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood be raised in the United States, Areikat said, and added that the PLO is urging the White House to translate their support for a Palestinian state into concrete action.
The Obama administration, in July 2010, granted the PLO permission to fly the banner despite the D.C. mission's lack of embassy status.
At the time, administration officials clarified that permitting the flag to fly does not mean an enhancement in diplomatic status for the PLO.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said at the time that allowing the flag had symbolic value, reflected improved relations with the PLO and would help bring the Palestinian leadership to the table with Israel to negotiate a Middle East peace settlement.
Direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders began again in September 2010, but the peace process has since faltered over several issues and appears to be in limbo.
PLO representation in Washington was made illegal in 1980s, because the group was widely viewed as a terrorist organization. But since the Oslo peace process began in 1993, U.S. presidents have used their power to waive the ban every six months, both to try to further the peace process and decrease the influence of Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group operating within Palestine.
Ros-Lehtinen, along with over 30 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year asking the administration to reconsider permission to fly the flag.
In the Senate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and 16 other senators from both parties, sent Secretary Clinton a letter on Tuesday urging the administration to oppose a resolution, currently being drawn up by the Palestinian Authority for consideration by the United Nations, that would have the U.N. dictate terms to Israel on borders and settlements - two contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A resolution of this nature would work against our country's consistent position, which has been that this and other issues linked to the Middle East peace process can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other, the Gillibrand letter states.
Attempts to use a venue such as the United Nations, which you know has a long history of hostility toward Israel, to deal with just one issue in the negotiations, will not move the two sides closer to a two-state solution, but rather damage the fragile trust between them, the letter states.
The senators urged the administration to use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to stop such a resolution.
Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. has reinforced the Palestinians rejectionism of Israel and direct talks through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law.
Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments, she said.
PLO envoy Areikat had a different perspective, saying the PLO hoped the flag raising would help international efforts to provide recognition of the Palestinian state and we hope that, as President Obama said at the U.N. General Assembly last year, by the next General Assembly session this year in September, Palestine will be a full member of the U.N.