Congressional letter urges Obama to shut PLO office

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Incoming and outgoing leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are circulating a letter calling on President Obama to close the Washington office of the PLO.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)  are circulating the letter that says the lawmakers are “deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress” by requesting non-member observer state status at the United Nations. The U.N. General Assembly approved the status elevation last month.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is backing the letter, while J Street opposes it.

Arguing that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas broke a pledge not to take any unilateral action, “we believe the United States must respond strongly,” the letter says.

“One important way of expressing U.S. disapproval would be to send the message that such actions are not cost-free and that, at a minimum, they result in setbacks to U.S.-Palestinian relations. We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps.”

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chairwoman of the committee and Royce is her replacement; Berman, the committee’s ranking Democrat, is leaving office and Engel is taking his slot on the committee.

The note circulating with the letter says it is backed by AIPAC, which an official of the lobby confirmed. J Street, which calls for an enhanced U.S. role in the peace process and for pressure on Israel to end settlement expansion, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing it.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

A Senate amendment proposed last month that would have shut down the PLO office for the same reason never made it to the voting stage.

Need to know? Sign up now to get JTA’s free e-newsletters!

Click to write a letter to the editor.