A bipartisan group of lawmakers are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill asking the White House to punish Palestinians for their successful statehood bid at the United Nations last month. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-CA), and Howard Berman (D-CA) have signed on to the letter imploring President Obama to shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, D.C. and “call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations.” The letter, which is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says to use “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”
Ros-Lehtinen last month called for cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to the statehood bid (a move that isn’t a very good idea). And a Senate amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act last week would have done just that and also called on the U.S. to shut down the PLO’s diplomatic mission in the U.S.
CAP’s Matt Duss wrote that responses like these are mistaken and could potentially help groups like Hamas:
“U.S. policymakers and legislators should consider the words of several former Israeli officials who have come out in support of the Palestinian bid, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said in a recent interview that “the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it.” Writing in Foreign Policy this week, former deputy Israeli defense minister Ephraim Sneh warned that efforts to punish [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas and the Palestinian Authority over the U.N. bid — which would likely redound to the benefit of Abbas’ more hardline rivals in Hamas — “would be a shot not in the foot but in the liver — Israel’s.”
In the end, the Senate amendment did not make its way into the final Senate NDAA. Groups like J Street, who heavily opposed the amendment, celebrated the move, saying that closing the mission would be too extreme and is “usually reserved for instances in which the United States is responding to deadly acts committed against our country or citizens, or gross violations of human rights by the government in question.”
CAP’s Duss adds that “rather than punishing Mahmoud Abbas’s government for the U.N. effort, Congress should recognize the considerable work it has done in building institutions and creating security in the West Bank. Congress should also support the Obama administration in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back into a credible negotiating process, with clear terms of reference in which both sides are held accountable to their commitments.”