Holding the PLO (and the State Department) accountable

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Is the PLO’s long vacation from accountability coming to an end? How about the State Department’s?

In 1987 the US State Department placed the PLO on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The PLO was removed from the list in 1994, following the initiation of its peace process with Israel in 1993.

As part of the Clinton administration’s efforts to conclude a long-term peace deal between the PLO and Israel, in 1994 then president Bill Clinton signed an executive order waiving enforcement of laws that barred the PLO and its front groups from operating in the US. His move enabled the PLO to open a mission in Washington.

In 2010, then president Barack Obama upgraded the mission’s status to the level of “Delegation General.” The move was seen as a signal that the Obama administration supported moves by the PLO to initiate recognition of the “State of Palestine” by European governments and international bodies.

Whereas Obama’s PLO upgrade was legally dubious, the PLO’s campaign to get recognized as a state breached both of its agreements with Israel and the terms under which the US recognized it and permitted it to operate missions on US soil.

The operation of the PLO’s missions in the US was contingent on periodic certification by the secretary of state that the PLO was not engaged in terrorism, including incitement of terrorism, was not encouraging the boycott of Israel and was not seeking to bypass its bilateral negotiations with Israel in order to achieve either diplomatic recognition or statehood. Under Obama, the State Department refused to acknowledge the PLO’s breach of all the conditions of US recognition.

Angry at the administration’s facilitation of PLO breaches, in 2015 Congress mandated stricter and more precise conditions for continued operation of the PLO’s mission in Washington. Starting in 2016, the PLO was explicitly banned from advocating the prosecution of Israelis by the International Criminal Court. In 2015 the PLO joined the ICC with the explicit purpose of advocating the prosecution of Israelis. And in conformance with this purpose, in his speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2017, PLO/PA chief Mahmoud Abbas called for the ICC to prosecute Israelis for building communities in Judea and Samaria.

Given his experience with US administrations since Clinton, Abbas had every reason to believe that he would suffer no repercussions for his statement. No US administration had ever called the PLO/PA to account for its open breach of the terms of US recognition. So it isn’t surprising that Abbas and his advisers were utterly shocked when on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to the PLO mission in Washington informing PLO envoy Husam Zomlot that he could not renew certification of PLO compliance with US law in light of Abbas’s statement in September.

The only way for the mission to remain in place is if President Donald Trump certifies within 90 days that the PLO is engaged in “direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

One of the primary functions of the PLO mission in Washington is to promote and fund the boycott movement against Israel – in contravention of the terms of its operation and the terms of its agreements with Israel.

In written testimony to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa in February, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies revealed that the mission is “said to be actively promoting campus BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] activity in the US.”

“PLO operatives in Washington, DC,” Schanzer said, “are reportedly involved in coordinating the activities of Palestinian students in the US who receive funds from the PLO to engage in BDS activism. This, of course, suggests that the BDS movement is not a grassroots activist movement, but rather one that is heavily influenced by PLO-sponsored persons.”

In April 2016, Schanzer informed Congress that the PLO consulate in Chicago is a major funder of the BDS campus group Students for Justice in Palestine. The chairman of the US Coalition to Boycott Israel, which among other things funds BDS, is Ghassan Barakat, an official at the PLO’s Chicago consulate. His colleague, Senan Shaqdeh, is a member of the coalition. Shaqdeh also claims to be the founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, the antisemitic BDS group that operates on campuses throughout the US.

As Schanzer noted, in 2014 Shaqdeh traveled to Ramallah to meet with Abbas and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Aside from the fact that the US has refused to hold the PLO accountable for its actions for a quarter century, the PLO has another good reason to be shocked by Tillerson’s letter: the US consulate in Jerusalem operates as almost a mirror to the PLO mission in Washington.

The US consulate in Jerusalem has the same status as an embassy. Like the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, the US consul general in Jerusalem reports directly to the State Department. He is not accredited to Israel. His area of operations includes Jerusalem and its environs within and beyond the 1949 armistice lines, including Beit Shemesh, Mevasseret Zion, Judea and Samaria.

Israeli citizens who live within the consulate’s area of operations are not permitted to receive consular and visa services from the embassy in Tel Aviv. Among the over a million Israeli Jews that are required to receive US consular services from the consulate rather than the embassy are tens of thousands of Jewish dual nationals.

And yet, as Yisrael Medad has exhaustively documented, the Jerusalem consulate maintains an effective boycott of both these dual nationals and Israeli nationals who live in its area of operation. All of the consulate’s activities for US citizens are directed specifically and openly toward “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

Consul General Donald Blome similarly directs all of his efforts toward reaching out to the Palestinians, ignoring as a regular practice the millions of Jews who live in his area of responsibility.

The consulate also openly rejects the notion that Israel and Jews have ties to its area of operations. For instance, Blome went on a hike around Judea and Samaria in July where he effectively erased the Jewish heritage sites in the areas. The consulate echoed UNESCO’s Jew-free version of the history of the land of Israel in a press release that celebrated his walk along the “Masar Ibrahim Al-Khalil” trail in celebration of “the connection of the people with the land.” Jews were not mentioned in the press release. And the historical name of the route he took is “Abraham’s path.”

Scholarships to study in the US and jobs listed on the website are open to “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

In other words, while the PLO missions are pushing the BDS agenda in the US, the US consulate in Jerusalem is implementing it on the ground in Israel.

Tillerson’s letter to the PLO mission on Friday came two weeks before Trump will have to decide whether or not to sign a related waiver. On December 1, Trump will either allow the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act to come into force or he will sign a waiver postponing the embassy move for yet another six months.

In a congressional hearing on the issue of moving the embassy to Jerusalem on November 8, Rep. Ron DeSantis said that transfer of the embassy may be delayed due to the Trump administration’s “efforts to pursue a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.”

DeSantis argued that until the embassy is moved the Trump administration should take “incremental steps” that move it toward the goal.

Among the steps he advocated, DeSantis said “the American consulates in Jerusalem should report to the American embassy in Israel, not directly to the State Department.”

Tillerson’s letter to Zomlot was shocking because it represented the first time since 1993 that the PLO has been held accountable for its actions. The time has come for the State Department, too, to be held accountable for its behavior. And the best way to start this process is to follow DeSantis’s advice, subordinate the US consulates in Jerusalem to the US ambassador and end their boycott of Jews – US citizens and non-citizens – who live in the Jerusalem area, in Judea and Samaria.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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