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House letter calls on Obama to shut PLO office

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Slightly more than half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on President Obama to shut down the PLO office in Washington as punishment for its ascension in U.N. status.

"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," said the letter sent Dec. 21, initiated by the incoming and outgoing leaders of both parties on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The letter was signed by 239 members, including leaders such as Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip. "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," the letter said.

The letter was initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), respectively the outgoing and incoming chairs, and Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), respectively the outgoing and incoming ranking Democrats.

The Palestine Liberation Organization had its status at the United Nations elevated last month to non-member observer state; that change could facilitate efforts to charge Israel with war crimes in the international court system.

The letter, which was backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), also called for defunding U.N.-affiliated organizations that similarly enhance PLO membership.  The letter follows an attempt earlier this month to attach a similar amendment to a Senate defense funding law; that amendment never came to a vote. Notably, the letter sent Dec. 21 did not include a call to defund the PLO-affiliated Palestinian Authority, as the Senate amendment did.

Separately, Ros-Lehtinen and 59 other lawmakers from both parties sent a letter of thanks Dec. 21 to the seven nations that joined the United States and Israel in what was a lopsided 138-9 U.N. General Assembly vote in favor of enhanced Palestinian statehood status, with 41 countries abstaining.

The seven countries are Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama.

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