Palestinians’ Flag Raising in D.C. Draws Fire from House Foreign Relations Chairwoman

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee blasted the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission Tuesday for raising its would-be national flag over its Washington offices, but the State Department sought to downplay any significance in the action.

The Palestinians made the symbolic gesture as they continue a push for international recognition that is complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to restart stalled Mideast peace talks.

“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,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

At a brief ceremony, the Palestinian’s chief envoy to the United States, Maen Areikat, hoisted the red, green, white and black banner outside the PLO General Delegation office. He expressed hope it would help in the Palestinian quest to win support for independence with or without a peace deal with Israel.

“We are proud to see the flag,” Areikat said. “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. We hope that this will help in the international efforts to provide recognition for the Palestinian state.”

The envoy acknowledged the flag-raising has no practical effect for U.S. policy, but said it was an “important, significant step” toward seeking recognition from the United States and others. He said he hoped the Obama administration would move to recognize an independent Palestine, something the U.S. has said it will not do until there is a negotiated peace deal with Israel.

Palestinian statehood is “an international interest, a U.S. interest and in the interest of all the parties in the Middle East,” Areikat said.

The PLO office has had permission from the State Department to fly the flag since last August, when the mission was upgraded from a representative office to a general delegation, but had been awaiting permission from the building’s owner before displaying it, he said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said raising the flag does not change the status of the diplomatic mission in the U.S.

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