Part of the continuous actions by the Arab and Palestinian communities and institutions in the United states, they conducted a press conference protesting and urging the US state Department to cancel its decision on closing the PLO mission office in Washington.
The conference was attended by President of Arab American Institute, Dr. James Zoughbi, National President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Samer Khalaf and President of the American Federation of Palestine Dr. Hanna Hannania each of them commented on the US decision, they also answerer some of the questions in the confrence.
Dr.Zoughbi thanked all participating parties and then proceeded in talking about the U.S state department law where he said, “The law is an unjust law. Back in 1993 after Oslo accord, Congress should had gotten rid of the ban on PLO and forbidding it by law from having an office in the US. Instead they didn’t end the ban but rather they gave a waiver at least six months with a serious of conditions on behavior. The problem was there was no similar conditions ever imposed on Israel so while one of the conditions for example is that they do not alter the condition in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza that becomes a laugh given that Israel has altered the conditions in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. At the same time over the years congress has changed the law, modified it to add new encumbrances on the Palestinians’ banning them from joining international organizations as a member state and then more recently forbidding them from bringing their case to the International Criminal Court. To me it’s the same thing as if Congress would have pass the law that forbid you from reporting to the police the fact that your house is being robbed and they view the guilty party for having reported that crime. Israel has simply carte blanched from the US, the Palestinians can go to the UN or the International Criminal Court but then are punished when they do so, meanwhile Israel is given a blind check from the US to do what it wants to do so. In this instance pursuing a nonviolent course of action asking the International Criminal Court to look into Israeli behavior is not an undesirable course from the Palestinian. My advice to them is whether the US closes your office or not they are to proceed in full speed ahead with bringing their case forward and letting the chips fall where they may. I would hope the State Department does not go through but if they do I would encourage the Palestinians to go through with their case and let the International Court decide.
Samir, agreed with Jim that the Palestinians have no choice but to go forward and complain to the International community and he said “ To me I am extremely prolix regarding the strategic significance of this move. I do not pretend to be the great negotiator our president is! I still do not understand what significance threating to shut down the PLO office has. Donald trump came when he was president and said that he was going to tackle one of the biggest issues in the international round that is the Palestine-Israel debate, he says as a great negotiator he has all the tools to get the job and to bring the parties together under an agreement. He went ahead putting this on the front former, he decided he is going to point his son in law as one of the lead negotiators and he began a listening tour of both sides to grap what is going on, where the sides want to be and the needs and demand they have. That tour is continuing they are continuing to speak to both sides they are continuing to listen to both sides. Supposedly, the Trump administration is going to come up with this incredible proposal to solve the issue all of this going is on while he decided to put added pressure on Palestinians to negotiate on good faith, negotiate what there is nothing on the table right now, there is no negotiations being talked about either now or in the future. what we know is that Israeli have repeatedly refused to negotiate more than once. They have put out statement upon statement they would refuse anything close to a two state solution so why is it that the Trump administration sees fit to now come out threatening a side that said repeatedly they are willing to sit down and negotiate while bolding the party that has refused to negotiate, honestly strategically I don’t know where does this get us if he does shut the office. President Abbas said he is going to cut off all communications with the United States. It seems like a strategy of trying to do whatever the pro-Israeli pack wants him to do I think this is a very dangerous game he is playing right now one that will only lead to a failure of his supposed peace process before he has even began.”
He added that “This is not the first time that a Palestinian official has threatened this, so why is it such a surprise to the administration.
Dr.Hanna Hannina said “At this point think we at The Federation and the community urge the Department and the administration to take on the necessary step not only to keep the PLO mission open and the fundamentally correct the matter but we also think it’s time to encourage the Congress to take the PLO as partner of the US and affiliate the misinformed and outdated legislations that serve no one expect extremist who seek to destroy any possibility for resolution. He secondly commented on cutting relations which he also emphasized that is “only going to feed the extremist even if 1 percent of the extremist take the opportunity and be able to join more, 1 percent too many.”
Hanna added, “I agree with Sami the timing and the reasons behind it are very clear why now, especially while the administration is trying to make a peace deal now how can they expect the PLO the be a partner and be able to make a peace deal at the time when the Congress is passing legislations that Israeli Knesset have not passed in that end.”
Finally he said, “the timing makes it very surprising hopefully the Department is going to be able stop this and hopefully push the Congress to stop all these resolutions going back to the old days like you mentioned earlier.”
At the end of the press conference, the floor was open for discussions and questions where one of the participants asked “what u think about the reports that part of reason that the State Department made the decision to close the PLO office is to force the Palestinians back to negotiate with the Israelis and also the rumor that the Trump administration is trying to push the Saudis into forcing Palestinian to set down and negotiate with the Israelis”
James answered by saying ” if that is the strategy and I don’t know if it is as opposed to that Abbas’s comments triggered pressure from the Congress and pressure from the Israeli we all know that Garner the Israeli ambassador in Washington in pressing Congress to push this agenda forward but If the rumor you suggest is true. I don’t know if there any logic to this idea if in fact it is true.
What apears to be true is continuing to silence Palestinian voices in America which goes back to the 19880’s continued in the nineties and during this century. From what we understand Garner is very active in pushing the administration to punish Abbas, there are Israeli and members of Congress who do not want negotiates and want to return back to the pre Oslo period when the PLO was a banned entity in the US and the reason why Israeli wants the PLO banned is what they said earlier, to accept the PLO is to accept the national life of the Palestinian people that is something they cannot accept they want the organization back in the period when it was banned”
Hanna said ” Palestinians are ready to go back to the negotiates the Palestinians took the strategic decision that negotiations and the peace deal is the only option they have. Since Oslo agreement it is the Israelis who have not been setting with whatever they agreed on every single time. They either continue building settlement when there is an agreement to stop the settlement, or like the last time they didn’t agree to release some of the prisoners during the negotiations time. I think it is very clear that the Israeli Prime Minster is the one who is just finding excuses not to go with the negotiations.”
Samir explained that “Palestinians have not refused to negotiate there was no time when president Abbas said will not set down with the Israeli he might put some conditions as did Israeli but the Palestinians have always been ready to set down and at least listen and talk so for them to come out now when there have been no actions by the Palestinians to suggest that they refuse to negotiate it does not really make sense.”
George Habib, the Deputive President of the American Federation in Ramallah, Palestine, asked what measures can we as Palestinian community take to really influence the us decision in preventing this from happening.
Dr. Zoughbai said ” We have a number of things, a letter to the State Department, we are doing this Press event and Action alerts on the issue to stop it. It is still up for what the administration is going to do and when. I called the PLO office and said if your staff is shut you are welcome to have desks and internet access in my office and i think other organizations will do the same. We had this situations when the PLO office was closed before, we need a public manifestation of support for them”
He added “Can we get the Congress to undo the 1987 law, I don’t think that it is possible they loath to do anything that will end up getting them in trouble with Israel. We are working with the court of the public opinion pleading our case here in the US. If the Congress isn’t going to undo the law and the State Department foolishly agreeing to implement the law and thereby sabotaging any hope that there be movement for the peace process. This will silence the voice of moderates it will push us far away from a negotiated solution.”
Samir on the other hand, emphasized that they will continue their work and further actions with international institutions.