Last week, to much confusion and some protest, the State Department upgraded the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the United States. The mission now has the permission to call itself the "General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization."
But Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations says that some of the initial reporting has been misleading and that it's time to shut down the PLO office and open a Palestinian Authority office.
Abrams told Think Tanked:
The news stories reporting that the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are in error, for there is no PA office. There is a PLO office, one which requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO's past links to terrorism. The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the "sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people," but (even just considering the support for Hamas) it is clear that that is untrue. Instead, the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat plus the salaries of a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be better to close the PLO office than to upgrade it, and substitute a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development--the newly trained police, the elections, the improved finances--will take place through the PA.
At the same time, the Obama administration appears to be downplaying the move in anticipation of criticism from Israel or any of the pro-Israel organizations in the U.S.
At the State Department briefing on Friday, spokesman P.J. Crowley said "there has been no change in the status of the Palestinian mission" and was either unaware or unwilling to discuss the Israeli position.
QUESTION: ...The U.S. apparently this week upgraded the Palestinian delegation here in Washington to the level of general delegation. What are the reasons for that move? What does it mean? Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, was saying that that would mean that say Palestinian diplomats here would have diplomatic immunity. They would be able to have other diplomatic privileges.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, just to clarify, there has been no change in the status of the Palestinian mission here in Washington. We – it operates under guidance provided by the State Department. It does not have any diplomatic privileges or immunities. At the request of the PLO representative, which we have granted given the improvement in the relations between the United States and Palestinians, they have requested permission to fly the Palestinian flag. And they have requested permission to call themselves the General Delegation of the PLO, which is a name that conforms to how they describe their missions in Europe, Canada, and several Latin American countries. But these steps have symbolic value, they reflect improved relations between the United States and Palestinians, but they have no meaning under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
QUESTION: What was the reason for approving it now? Were requests made in the past under previous administrations?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a fair question. I don’t know. They requested it, we evaluated it, and we recognized its importance to them, and we granted it.
QUESTION: And why weren’t they allowed to fly the flag previously?
MR. CROWLEY: I think under the guidelines that were established when a PLO office was established here in Washington, these were the set guidelines at the time. Over time, in this particular case, we’ve adapted them. But their status as a mission has not changed.
QUESTION: Was there communication with the Israelis on this? And do they have any sensitivities about it?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I can’t say.