Administration Pressing Congress to Lift U.S. Restrictions Against PLO

In an effort to help implement the historic Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed last week, the Clinton administration has been urging Congress to modify restrictions on certain American dealings with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

And during consideration of a foreign aid appropriations bill this week, the Senate voted to lift some restrictions on U.S. financial dealings with the PLO.

The administration believes the restrictions could hamper the PLO’s ability to participate in the next stage of the Israeli-PLO accord.

Because of the PLO’s longtime ties to terrorism, Congress has enacted a series of laws over the years barring various activities related to the PLO.

For example, the PLO would like to reopen its office here, but is barred from doing so by a 1990 law that ordered the closure of PLO offices in Washington and New York.

There have also been restrictions on U.S. contributions to international organizations that fund the PLO.

But on Wednesday and Thursday, as the Senate considered its 1994 foreign aid appropriations bill, it voted to waive temporarily some of those funding restrictions, provided the PLO abides by its recent commitment to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

The Senate passed the appropriations bill late Thursday afternoon, by a vote of 88-10. The bill includes Israel’s annual $3 billion package of U.S. economic and military aid.

STATUTES ARE ‘QUITE ANTIQUATED’

Now that Israel and the PLO have signed an agreement for limited Palestinian self-rule, beginning in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, the administration thinks that practical changes are in order.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher this week called on Congress to amend “statutes that inhibit dealing with the PLO and are really quite antiquated at the present time.”

Key administration officials dealing with the peace process have been holding meetings on Capitol Hill this week, making their case that there must be changes in U.S. law for the peace process to succeed.

Long wary of the PLO, many members of Congress are approaching the lifting of PLO-related restrictions with caution. Although they want the peace process to succeed, many on the Hill do not welcome the idea of major changes in PLO-related legislation.

While not officially recognizing the PLO, the Clinton administration announced earlier this month, prior to the Sept. 13 signing ceremony, that it was renewing a dialogue with the organization that had been broken off in 1990.

The administration has also organized an international donors’ conference slated for Oct. 1 that is designed to provide the Palestinians with $3 billion in aid to lift Gaza and the West Bank out of their dire economic straits.

The administration plans to contribute $250 million to assist the Palestinians.

Efforts to assist the Palestinians are backed by Israel and by leaders in the pro-Israel community.

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