Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The “State of Palestine” and the PLO Office in Washington

by Elliott Abrams
January 8, 2013


Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has begun to use “State of Palestine” on all official documents, stationery, and stamps. This is “to implement the resolution of General Assembly of the UN on Nov. 29 to recognize Palestine as a non-member state,” according to the official Palestinian news agency.

There is a Palestinian office in Washington—but it represents the PLO, not the “State of Palestine” or the Palestinian National Authority that governs the West Bank and receives millions of dollars in American aid. That PLO office is doing most of the things an embassy does. According to its web site, it has a “Government Affairs” department that “is responsible for strengthening the relationship between the PLO and the US Government’s Executive branch,” a “Congressional Affairs” department that is “in charge of reaching out to and building relations with both the House and Senate,” and media, public affairs, and community outreach offices. The key difference is the name: “PLO Delegation” rather than “Embassy of Palestine” or “Palestinian National Authority Delegation.”

Why not have a “State of Palestine” embassy? Simple. There should not be an “Embassy of Palestine” because the United States does not believe there is today a “State of  Palestine.” American policy is that there should some day be such a state, but as the product of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that conclude a final status agreement.

Then why not be happy with the status quo, a PLO office? First, the PLO is a group with a long terrorist history. Second, even today the PLO Charter (1968) is filled with pernicious nonsense about “the basic conflict that exists between the forces of Zionism and of imperialism on the one hand, and the Palestinian Arab people on the other,” and relies on concepts like “commando action,” the “Arab masses,” and “popular liberation war.” Its outlook is summed up in this line: “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood.”

All of this led Congress in 1987 to forbid a PLO office:

It shall be unlawful…. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, to establish or maintain an office, headquarters, premises, or other facilities or establishments within the jurisdiction of the United States at the behest or direction of, or with funds provided by the Palestine Liberation Organization or any of its constituent groups, any successor to any of those, or any agents thereof.

As Congress permitted, that provision has been waived repeatedly by President Obama (as it had been by Presidents Bush and Clinton), and in 2010 he even upgraded the PLO office’s diplomatic status. But that was before the UN General Assembly magically turned the “non-state observer” called the PLO into the “non-member state” called Palestine. That event ought to give us pause, and lead us to re-think whether a PLO rather than PNA office is a good idea.

In addition to the PLO’s historic baggage and its offensive Charter, a third reason to stop dealing with the PLO is that it is a non-democratic body. The PNA is theoretically a democratic one whose leadership is chosen through popular elections. Of course that’s highly theoretical, because the last national elections were held in 2006 and the terms of the entire parliament and of President Abbas expired long ago. Still, isn’t accepting the hypocrisy of the PNA about democracy preferable to honoring the unreformed, hopelessly compromised PLO, in whose Charter the word “democracy” does not even appear?

It isn’t as if doing so would contravene the practices of the Palestinians themselves. Back home in Ramallah, the foreign minister hasn’t been calling himself “Foreign Minister of the PLO.” Rather, his web site says he is “Foreign Minister of the Palestine National Authority” and the PNA’s main web site says the same thing. Moreover, under the Palestinian “Basic Law,” the PNA president and not the PLO chairman “is the Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Forces,” “shall appoint and terminate the services of the National Authority’s delegates to foreign countries, international organizations and foreign agencies,” and “shall accept the credentials of foreign delegates to the Palestinian National Authority.”

No doubt there are contradictions here: the PNA was established under the Oslo Occords with jurisdiction only over domestic affairs. The language of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement outlining the structure of the new PNA specifically said its “jurisdiction does not include foreign relations.” Perhaps for that reason the Palestinian official theoretically charged with negotiating with Israel, Saeb Erekat, is not a PNA official: he is still called the head of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (whose web site makes it clear that it is a PLO, not a PNA, body). Some of those contradictions may become even more convoluted now, with the Palestinian leadership proclaiming a “State of Palestine.” Perhaps the foreign minister will now be called “Foreign Minister of the State of Palestine” rather than “Foreign Minister of the Palestine National Authority,” and perhaps there will be an effort to change the names of all the overseas delegations from “PLO” to “State of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, some members of Congress have been trying to force the closing of that PLO office in Washington. After that UN vote in late November, Senators Schumer, Graham, and Barrasso tried unsuccessfully to insert amendments to the defense spending bill to close the PLO office, and in December the outgoing and incoming chairmen and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to the President asking him to do the same. Of course, these members of Congress are not suggesting substituting a “State of Palestine” embassy or a PNA office for the PLO office—just closing the PLO office down.

But it would be foolish today to permit no Palestinian representation in Washington. Our officials deal with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad every day, and the PNA (not the PLO) governs the West Bank and receives millions of dollars in American aid. We view the PNA (not the PLO) officially as the embryonic government of the future Palestine. But it is long past time to stop issuing the waivers, to close the PLO office, and to deal straightforwardly with the PNA.

If “reconciliation” brings Hamas back into the PNA’s structures, U.S. government lawyers may conclude in 2013 as they did in 2006 that the PNA is controlled by a terrorist group. All aid would likely be suspended then as a matter of law as well as a matter of policy. That would be the moment to close the office entirely. Now’s the time to end the PLO official presence here.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    I can call myself “Groucho Marx” but that doesn’t make it so .

  • Posted by Kevinexcess

    Mr. Abrams I would be very interested in learning why you promote a Coup detat of the Palestinian Government? Your blog provides advice for the overthrow of the Palestinian Leadership. While at the same time your Foreign Policy prevents the unification of the Palestinian Leadership which in turn makes it impossible for negotiations with Israel on a true peaceful settlement to even happen.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Since the leadership of Fatah, the PLO, the Palestinian National Authority, and the “State of Palestine” is the same people, that would be an odd coup d’etat.

  • Posted by Kevinexcess

    It’s odd that the three organizations you mentioned are the only Palestinian Representative Bodies that Israel and the United States recognize. Mr. Abrams a Coup d’tat is the infiltration or in modern terms the financial and organizational manipulation of a small, but critical, segment of a states apparatus, which is then used to disrupt the said government. You not only promote these manipulations but with mathimatical percision you have implimented them in the past in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and the rebel Contras in Nicaragua. To me your policies and Human Rights Record, reveal you may hold a Jacksonian view of Democracy where superiority demands expansionism and manifest destiny rules.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Kevinesxcess … You have a way of complicating the obvious and confusing the extraneous .

  • Posted by papicek

    1) As the author states, the US implicitly recognized the PLO who negotiated and signed the Oslo Accords, done in Washington, with the US, along with many others, officially witnessing those agreements, from which the Palestinian Authority is derived. However, recognition is also implied through the Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the Agreement on Encouragement of Investment, done in 1994..That the US engaged in these agreements at all is de facto recognition, a principle the author knows perfectly well.

    2) As for the PLO charter, it was never meant to be anything but a call for sovereignty, (and is historically accurate). Abrams asks us to believe it should be interpreted as something else entirely.

    Nonetheless, Abrams characterizes the document incorrectly, which explicitly calls for a constitution to be drawn up at a later time and Article 33 of the Charter does, in fact, call for democratic procedure.


    3) While the US does indeed provide millions (with an “M”) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, he conveniently neglects to mention that Israel is the single largest recipient of US foreign aid, to the tune of about $13 billion, with a “B”, almost all of which is military aid and the last figure I saw was that this pays for about 17% of Israel’s military budget. That’s quite a difference.

    4) Congress passes a lot of meaningless resolutions, and if Abrams wants, I can point out to him the many times US diplomats have had to reassure other countries that Congress does not conduct normal US foreign policy. I suggest he read through FRUS.

    Congress may also feel it has the power to close the PLO office through law, but I’ll bet this would probably infringe on the executive branch’s sole authority in conducting peacetime foreign relations granted by the constitution.

    5) The ultimate offense committed was by the zionists, by Britain and the US. The House of Lords realized this in 1922 when it overwhelmingly rejected the Palestine Mandate on the grounds that the Balfour Declaration, incorporated within, would violate of the rights of Palestine’s Arab population, such as was expressed in the League of Nations Covenant, Article 22. If Abrams likes, he can read through the debate himself here:


    6) The only half-way valid point the author offers here is that the terms of Abbas and the nascent Palestine Authority legislature have long expired. I might point out that one could easily have said the same of Gadhafi in Libya, Assad in Syria and countless others have not prevented the US from establishing and carrying out full diplomatic relations with these nations. Why are Palestinians held to a higher standard?

    I might point out here that since the worldwide move away from colonial rule beginning in 1919, only Israel is granted an exemption. Only Palestinians were made to pay for the crimes in Europe. Zionists can make a valid case for a big chunk of Germany, who earned the hit, as a national home (regardless of the decision of the fifth World Zionist Congress in 1901), but Palestinians were made to foot the entire bill for Europe’s guilt instead.

    Palestinians know it, too. (See the PLO Charter linked to above, for example.)

    Abrams asks us to ignore a lot, yet he accurately reflects longstanding US policy in which no agreement can be reached that Israel, increasingly stating in public that it is bent on annexing the West Bank outright (In contravention of A/RES/242, clause 2, please note), does not dictate. In 2012 alone, settlement construction has increased dramatically:


    What is happening here however, is another effort in buying Israel time to swallow up the West Bank entirely without actually being explicit about it.

    Little wonder why the term “hasbara” has become an obscenity.

    There really is no good reason for the US not to officially recognize the State of Palestine, to guide it towards regular, fair elections and helping it to build the institutions of civil society. Except that this would tend to undermine what legitimacy there is for Israel’s occupation and seizure. Like I say, this is what is really going on here.

    The Council on Foreign Relations should be doing a lot better than offering the kinds of arguments we see here. This is amateur.

  • Posted by papicek

    One last point. as Abrams points out, Palestinians have a well known history of terrorist activity. Fair enough.

    What’s not fair about this is that exactly the same history of terrorism exists for zionists in the period beginning after the White Paper of 1939. There is a list out there, extremist and hardly even handed, which I’ve been able to confirm from primary sources is nonetheless largely accurate:


    Car bombs, letter bombs, assassination of at least one British official as well as another UN official, what we now call IED’s placed in both roads and rail lines, attacks on public infrastructure, private business, cinemas and cafes, bombing crowds of civilians on streets, hostage taking, extortion of Jews, execution of Jewish “traitors” . . . all are well documented activities we now call terrorism carried out by zionists.

    Why does Israel get a pass while Palestinians do not?

  • Posted by Independent Observer

    Papicek is a bit of a propagandist distorting history in order to demonise Israel.

    Two examples:

    1. Israel is not trying to “swallow up the West Bank.” For more than two decades, Israel’s authorised building activity has been restricted to the “consensus settlements” – that is, the “swap areas” consytuting less than 10% of the Wrs Bank, to be swapped to Israel under the consensus of the Israelis, Americans, Arab League, and Palestinian negotiators at Taba and Geneva.

    2. Jewish terrorists pre-1948 were minuscule in both numbers and duration and (lack of) popular support in comparison with the massive Palestinian terrorist campaigns of the last half-century. Moreover, their objectives were hardly eliminationist as the PLO, Hamas, etc.

  • Posted by sabina shafei

    my sister in laws 3 american kids got abducted in Palestine and i called the office of the plo in washington and they dont give a shit and will not help in any way
    the person who abducted the kids is their american father who is in Palestine on an expired visa and i cant get help from anyone there

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