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Salutes, groans: Palestinian flag draws mixed reviews
Washington Jewish Week / January 19, 2011

By Larry Luxner

The State of Palestine doesn’t yet exist, but that didn’t stop the PLO from hoisting the Palestinian flag over its Washington office this week for the first time ever.

A few dozen journalists and diplomats braved freezing rain Tuesday morning to observe the symbolic act — which immediately provoked pride among Palestinians and outrage among some Jewish groups and their supporters in Congress.

“It’s a historic day for us,” declared Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Office in Washington, as he raised the green, white, red and black flag from a second-story balcony. “I think it’s about time that our flag — which symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood — flies officially in the United States.”

The act was made possible by the State Department, which recently upgraded the PLO mission to a full delegation, though it still falls short of being an embassy.

“We told [the Obama administration] that it doesn’t make any sense the Palestinian flag is being raised at Andrews Air Force Base when President [Mahmoud] Abbas comes here and is saluted by an honor guard, but not over our own building,” Areikat told the small crowd. “And they accepted our argument. But it also means the Obama administration is serious that they want to see the struggle of the Palestinian people concluded. What we are urging them now is to translate their support into concrete action.”

Hussein Hassouna, the Arab League’s ambassador to the United States, attended the flag-raising, though not a single State Department official showed up — perhaps not a surprise, given the sensitivity of the issue in Washington.

The Israeli Embassy couldn’t be reached for comment, and J Street — a Jewish organization that actively supports the “two-state solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict — wouldn’t comment at all. But Jason Isaacson, a top official of the American Jewish Committee, called the ceremony a “moment of irony and some disappointment” for supporters of Israel.

“The PLO does not have an embassy in Washington because they do not have a state, but to the extent they are responsible players and actually engage in the peace process, they should be accepted as representing the interests of the Palestinian people in Washington,” said Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs.

“But at the same time the Palestinians are gaining a degree of diplomatic legitimacy, they are failing to live up to the responsibilities of leadership in allowing negotiations to move forward. They have not fulfilled their obligations.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a strident supporter of Israel, was far more blunt in her criticism.

“Raising this flag in D.C. is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state,” she said.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.”

Last August, Ros-Lehtinen, along with fellow Republican lawmakers Anthony Weiner (NY), John Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (VA) and 32 other members of Congress, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to close the PLO office in Washington rather than grant it upgraded privileges.

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, couldn’t agree more.

“This is another serious mistake by Obama in rewarding the Palestinian Authority by upgrading this mission and allowing them to fly their flag, even though the PA has refused to arrest terrorists, outlaw terrorist groups and end the promotion of violence and hatred against Jews in schools, media and speeches,” he told WJW. “It sends the message that they don’t have to do anything to move toward peace, and they’ll continue to be rewarded.”

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