- By Josh Rogin
A top Palestine Liberation Organization official responded to Texas Gov. Rick Perry‘s scathing criticisms of the PLO on Tuesday by telling The Cable that Perry’s comments were "discriminatory and racist."
Perry hosted a pro-Israel rally in New York on Tuesday morning, during which he repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of "appeasement" of the Palestinians and of bungling three years of Middle East diplomacy. He also called for the closing of the PLO mission in Washington, and the cutting off of U.S. aid to the Palestinian leadership as punishment for their drive to seek member-state status at the United Nations.
But the part of Perry’s remarks that really angered the PLO’s Washington representative, Maen Rashid Areikat, was when Perry said, "The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult."
"I was appalled by what he said about ‘moral equivalence,’ that there shouldn’t be moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians. This amounts to taking a discriminatory and racist position," Areikat said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable.
"I thought the fundamental principles of the United States were to support people who are seeking freedom and liberty and justice and the Palestinian people are doing exactly that," Areikat continued. "To try to give the impression that there’s no moral equivalence between the struggle of the Palestinians and the Israelis is really something that requires condemnation. It is really surprising and unacceptable."
Areikat also said that Perry had no authority to call for the closing of the PLO office in Washington, and that doing so would amount to cutting off the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian people.
"Is he really contemplating that the United States loses its leverage in an important region in the Middle East? If he wants to close down the PLO office in Washington he is calling on the United States to call off its relationship with the Palestinian people, who are a crucial player in this conflict. So is that something that is in the interest of the United States? I don’t think so."
"I thought he was an expert on creating jobs. I didn’t know he was an expert on Palestinian-Israeli affairs," Areikat quipped.
The Cable also asked Areikat for the latest on the behind-the-scenes efforts by the United States and other members of the Middle East Quartet to come up with a statement that would bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
CNN reported today that U.S. and EU officials are discussing a plan by which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would deliver a letter to the U.N. Security Council seeking full Palestinian statehood, but not force a Security Council vote. The letter would be paired with a statement by the Quartet setting out the path forward for negotiations.
Areikat said the PLO was not involved in those discussions and would not be dissuaded from seeking a Security Council vote on its bid for full member-state status at the United Nations. He said the Palestinians still intend to submit their format request for full member-state status to the Security Council on Friday, and hope to have a vote on the issue "within a few days."
"We have made the decision to go to the U.N. Security Council, a decision made by the Palestinian leadership and announced last Friday by the President [Mahmoud Abbas]. And this is our position, we have made it clear this is what we are doing," he said.
Former Congressman Robert Wexler told The Cable today that the U.S. strategy at this point is to try to shift attention away from the U.N. Security Council and focus on what happens after this month’s diplomacy, with an eye toward minimizing the damage and the fallout.
"The approach is to ratchet down the expectations and to create a sober follow-up process…and engaging the Israelis and Palestinians to make the day after a constructive day, rather than a destructive day," Wexler said. "I think in the 11th hour sober minds will prevail and a Quartet statement will emerge."
There are still a lot of possibilities about what could happen after the Palestinians file their letter with the Security Council and nothing is set in stone, he said. "The bottom line is it’s still worth pursuing negotiations and diplomacy to either avoid the train wreck, or at least mitigate the damage it might cause."
"At some point, if the Palestinian leadership wishes to achieve its objective of a viable, demilitarized Palestinian state, then they will have to negotiate with the Israelis," Wexler said.
And like Areikat, Wexler wasn’t happy with Perry’s comments either. He told Politico today that Perry’s idea to end security assistance to the Palestinians was careless and foolish.
"If we actually did what Governor Perry advocates, Hamas would benefit greatly and the Israeli people would pay in blood, as would the Palestinian people," he said. "I wonder if he read his own speech before he started talking."