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Palestinians want justice, with or without an office in DC

Nov 30,2017 - Last updated at Nov 30,2017

The Trump administration may have committed its biggest blunder yet in terms of trying to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

When the US government resorted to legal manoeuvres disallowing the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) mission in Washington DC to stay open, it showed its hand as a dishonest broker for peace.

The PLO, whose former chairman Yasser Arafat exchanged letters of recognition with Israel 24 years ago, became a legitimate peace partner on September 13, 1993.

At that time, the Oslo Accords where signed on the White House lawn and Bill Clinton observed the famous handshake between Arafat and the then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Much has happened since then, but the premise that the PLO represents Palestinians has never been questioned by either Democratic or Republican administrations.

The need for the PLO to be able to work in Washington has been accepted as normal, despite the existence of an AIPAC-sponsored legislation that banned Palestinians from seeking justice at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The restrictive legislation, however, allows the president to sign a waiver every six months as long as he is convinced that Palestinians are involved in serious negotiations with Israel.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plucked a line from a speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly to justify the closure of the PLO office.

Abbas warned, on September 20, in New York that the two-state solution is in jeopardy saying: “We can not, as Palestinians, stand still in the face of this threat targeting our national, political and social existence.”

Abbas’ statement came nine months after the UN Security Council had voted 14-0, with the US abstaining, on Resolution 2334 that declared Israeli settlement activity illegal; the Trump administration did not even call for at least suspending settlements activities.

As a result, Abbas said: “We have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

As to the failure of President Donald Trump to issue the waiver that is dependent on some peace process, it is illogical to punish Palestinians for not showing serious intent to participate in peace talks that are not even taking place.

The sad part, however, is that American officials’ actions are hurting, not helping, accomplish Trump’s highly publicised “ultimate deal”.

Palestinians, armed with their conviction as well as decades of negotiation experience, are not easily moved by such US actions.

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi called conditioning the renewal of the waiver on Palestinians’ sticking to “direct and meaningful negotiations” with Israel as being “superfluous”, since negotiations are nonexistent; she called the US action (or inaction in this case) a cheap attempt at “blackmail and coercion”. 

Palestinians have been negotiating with Israel for decades; they stuck to the letter of international law and signed agreements, while many, including the former US secretary of state John Kerry, correctly argue that the Israelis are “not interested in peace”.

While the US action was rejected by the PLO, which vowed to suspend contacts with the US if its office is closed in Washington, the Palestinian leadership received an unexpected vote of confidence from various segments of America.

Messages of support to the PLO and the Palestinian cause have been pouring in after news of the Trump administration’s intentions became public late last Friday.

Contrary to the flimsy reasons mentioned by the Trump administration for its decision, many believe that the PLO office in Washington was targeted because of its effectiveness in delivering the Palestinian peace narrative.

For the first time in the history of the US Congress, an item of legislation signed by 10 US representatives headed by congresswoman Betty McColum was submitted last week calling for accountability for Israeli violations of the rights of Palestinian children.

Newly appointed Palestinian Ambassador Hussam Zomlot has been actively pursuing members of the US administration and Congress, as well as peace NGOs in the US.

Mayors of Bethlehem and nearby Wadi Fokeen where just in Washington, meeting with members of the US Congress and explaining to them how the birthplace of Christ is being encircled by walls and legal restrictions.

The reason the Trump administration has chosen to close down the PLO office might also be because of its effective effort to unite Palestinian Americans after years of disunity and apathy.

This was made clear last Friday when hundreds of Americans of Palestinian origin met in  New Jersey and vowed to turn their homes into embassies of Palestine if the US ultimately closes the PLO office in Washington.

A steering committee was established, representing Palestinian Americans from northeast US, to work for the Palestinian cause.

When it comes to the Palestinian cause, it is not important whether the PLO has an office in Washington DC or not. 

What is more important is that justice for Palestinians, whether through the arbitration of the International Court of Justice or through the decision of the decent people of America, will be allowed to prevail over the voices of occupation and denial of Palestinian self-determination.

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It is unjust that American Politicians play with the Palestinian Question to please Israel, we ask American human rights civil societies to intervene to save peace for the Palestinians


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