WASHINGTON (Aug. 29)
The Reagan administration has decided not to appeal a U.S. District Court ruling in June barring the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s observer mission to the United Nations.
Initial reaction from Jewish groups was mixed, with some expressing dismay and others greeting the decision with equanimity.
In a statement released Monday, the Justice Department said, “On balance, the interests of the United States are best served by not appealing.”
It said that it is the administration’s “normal policy to appeal adverse district court decisions of this kind.” But it went on to say that closing the mission in any event would be contrary to U.S. treaty obligations, especially “in light of foreign policy considerations, including the U.S. role as host of the United Nations organization.”
The announcement was made as the 60-day period during which the United States was given an opportunity to file an appeal expired. Judge Edmund Palmieri of the U.S. District Court in New York ruled June 28 that closing the mission would violate the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement.
That treaty prevents host nations from closing the U.N. missions of member states. Palmieri said the treaty leaves no doubt that the United States is obligated “to refrain from impairing the function” of the PLO’s U.N. mission.
The challenge was brought after the PLO ignored Justice Department orders to close the office by March 21 under the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act. That law, which helped lead to the closure of the PLO’s Washington information office, was adopted by Congress late last year and signed by President Reagan Dec. 22.
AGAINST REOPENING D.C. OFFICE
“The administration will continue to oppose efforts to reopen the PLO information office in Washington,” the Justice Department said Monday.
While the State Department agreed with Congress that the administration had the right to close the Washington office, it argued that Congress was unaware of U.S. treaty obligations when it ordered the U.N. mission closed as well. The Justice Department argued conversely, that Congress’ intent was unambiguous.
With the decision not to appeal, the only other conceivable route that could threaten the mission would be for Congress to pass a new law saying that in ordering the mission closed it intends to ignore any international treaty obligations.
Congressional aides said any such action would not likely occur this year, as the second session of the 100th Congress draws to a close before Election Day.
Among the Jewish groups dismayed by the decision not to appeal was the American Section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers.
Jerome Hornblass, president of the section and a justice on the New York State Supreme Court, said he was “very disappointed because the Reagan administration put their weight behind the legal process by instituting suit. Now it turns out in the middle of the appellate process they are backing down.”
Hornblass added that the decision “demonstrates a lukewarm attitude toward eradicating terrorism” and “gives legitimacy to the PLO.”
Yosef Gal, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, said “the Israeli position on the PLO is a terrorist organization that does not belong among the nations of the world.”
But he added that Israel did not want to get into a dispute between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government.
SOME JEWISH GROUPS HELD BACK
A source familiar with the views of Jewish groups toward the PLO’s U.N. mission said that some of the more influential organizations stopped short of lobbying strongly for an appeal.
The source added that the lobbying effort consisted mainly of “second-line” advocacy groups such as the Jewish Law Students Network (a branch of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers) and the Zionist Organization of America.
Marc Stern, legal director of the American Jewish Congress, said his group did not seek the closing of the PLO’s U.N. office, although it wrote friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the closing of the PLO’s Washington office.
Stern said AJCongress did not push for the United States to close the PLO’s U.N. mission, although the Supreme Court has upheld Congress’ right to breach international law for the sake of fulfilling its own legislative will.
He said his group was concerned in part about U.S. international obligations to U.N. member-states as well as the “fallout from those sorts of decisions.”
Stern added that he was satisfied that the United States took a stand against terrorism by closing the PLO’s Washington office.
David Brody, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said his organization took no position on appealing the court ruling.