Bill would shut down PLO office for statehood action

WASHINGTON (JTA) – An appropriations bill would shut down the PLO office in Washington if Palestinians pursue statehood recognition absent talks with Israel and fail to take steps to stop incitement.

The bill, referred Wednesday by the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee to the full committee, for the first time restricts the broad presidential waiver that applied to the 1988 law that originally banned setting up a Palestine Liberation Organization office on U.S. soil.

Instead of simply saying the president may waive the ban if doing so "is important to the security interests of the United States," the bill also requires the president to certify that "the Palestinian Authority is not attempting to establish or seek recognition at the United Nations of a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians" and "the Palestinian Authority is moving to halt anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Authority-controlled electronic and print media and in schools, mosques, and other institutions it controls, and is replacing these materials, including textbooks, with materials that promote tolerance, peace, and coexistence with Israel."

Presidents have routinely waived the ban since the launch of the Oslo process in 1993. What had been known for years as the "Palestine Affairs Center" was renamed the PLO mission in 1994. Last year the Obama administration allowed the mission to fly the Palestinian flag for the first time.

Congressional appropriators had repeatedly warned the Palestinians that their push for statehood recognition at the United Nations in September would have repercussions.

Restrictions on Palestinian aid take up 10 pages of the 186-page bill, and the language has the backing of Democrats and Republicans, whootherwise are sharply divided over the Republican majority’s introduction of cuts in assistance to other parts of the world and of bans on assistance to family planning clinics that provide information on abortions.

One new restriction bans aid to any Palestinian government "that results from an agreement with Hamas." That’s much broader than existing language, which bans aid to any government that has Hamas ministers. It would seemingly count out assistance to the government of technocrats that Palestinian leaders have envisioned as the result of a unity agreement with the terrorist group, although this provision includes a broad presidential waiver.

The bill also keeps assistance to Israel at $3.075 billion — a provision that also has the backing of both parties, as does Iran sanctions language.

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