State Dept to keep PLO office in DC open despite UN stunt

Are there any consequences for defying the US at the UN for the Palestinian Authority, which recently relaunched itself as “the State of Palestine” after non-voting recognition by the UN General Assembly?  Apparently not, as the State Department and the Obama administration have quietly extended the PLO’s exception to an anti-terrorism law that allows them to keep their DC office open:

The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel.

The interesting twist is that while the documents were filed yesterday to no fanfare at all from State, the declaratory statement was written well in advance of Mahmoud Abbas’ grandstanding event in November:

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote.

That’s accurate … but only just.  Abbas is busy portraying the vote in the UN as authorization to call the PA a state, ordering some official documents to now read “State of Palestine”:

With U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in his pocket, President Mahmoud Abbas wants official documents to carry a new emblem: “State of Palestine.”

But scrapping the old “Palestinian Authority” logo is as far as Abbas is willing to go in provoking Israel. He is not rushing to change passports and ID cards Palestinians need to pass through Israeli crossings.

The very modesty of Abbas’ move to change official stationery underscores his limited options so long as Israel remains in charge of territories the world says should one day make up that state.

Israel wants a two-state solution, for very practical reasons.  They don’t want to absorb the territories and have to give the inhabitants the vote, for one thing, and neither Jordan or Egypt will take back what they lost in 1967.  Abbas has finally gotten around to endorsing a two-state solution in Arabic (in September 2012), but without acknowledging the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.  Hamas, in control of Gaza, won’t even go that far.  That’s the big reasons that the talks have been stuck for the entirety of Obama’s presidency, especially after Obama fumbled negotiations almost immediately by making an issue of construction to which Abbas hadn’t even objected formally.

So why keep the PLO’s office open?  Members of Congress petitioned to keep it closed, but perhaps State wants to use it to keep Abbas from going further:

Hassan Alawi, a deputy interior minister for the PA, said documents and stationery with the new emblem will be ready within two months. But he said all documents Palestinians need in their dealings with Israel, such as passports, ID cards and driver’s licenses, will only be changed if there is a further decision by Abbas.

Israeli officials declined to comment yesterday on whether Israel would refuse to deal with documents bearing the “State of Palestine” logo. Alawi said his office had been informed by Israeli officials after Abbas’ decree that “they will not deal with any new form of passport or ID.”

Saeb Erekat, a senior Abbas aide, said the new emblem will be used in correspondence with countries that have recognized a state of Palestine.

He suggested that there would be no change in passports or other documents Palestinians need for movement through Israeli crossings.

“As far as the Israelis are concerned, we are not going to overload the wagon of our people by putting State of Palestine on passports,” he said. “[The Israelis] will not allow them to travel.”

Palestinians must pass through Israeli-run crossings to leave the West Bank and also carry an ID card with them at all times or risk arrest if stopped without one at a military checkpoint inside the territory.

It’s not as if this leverage has produced any real positive results for the US in negotiations, but perhaps jettisoning it will produce further negative results.  Either way, Abbas and the PA ended up paying no price for defying the US at the UN, and that may end up producing negative results down the line, too.