WASHINGTON (JTA) — The PLO office in Washington raised a flag for the first time.
"It’s about time that this flag that symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood is raised in the United States," said Palestine Liberation Organization envoy Maen Areikat in a brief ceremony Tuesday outside its Dupont Circle offices. "We hope that this will help in the international efforts to provide recognition for the Palestinian state."
The Obama administration granted the delegation, which does not have embassy status, permission to raise the flag last July.
Palestinian Authority officials last year launched an effort to broaden international recognition of a state of Palestine within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The officials targeted Europe and Latin America, the two areas of the world where nations resisted the last such push, in the late 1980s.
Seven South American nations have signed on to the effort, and senior Israeli officials have said they fear European governments may join them.
On Tuesday, Russia’s government reaffirmed the 1988 recognition accorded Palestine by its Soviet predecessor.
Areikat has said that such recognition is not tantamount to statehood, but ratchets up pressure on Israel to freeze settlement building.
The Palestinian Authority abandoned direct talks in September because Israel’s government refused to extend a partial building freeze.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the flag raising.
"Raising this flag in D.C. is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state," she said.
Ros-Lehtinen reiterated a call on the Obama administration to shut down the office as long as the Palestinians refuse to return to direct talks.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan slate of U.S. senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging her to quash a resolution circulating at the U.N. Security Council which it suggests dictates terms for a settlement.
"A resolution of this nature would work against our country’s consistent position, which has been that this and other issues linked to the Middle East peace process can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other," says the letter, signed by 17 senators and initiated by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
JTA has obtained a draft of the resolution, reportedly initiated by the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations; it does not urge the imposition of terms, and instead calls for a freeze in settlement building and a return to direct talks.
U.S. officials have said they do not want the settlements issue brought before the Security Council but have stopped short of saying they would veto such a resolution.