Palestinians on Tuesday raised their flag over the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington for the first time, as Palestinians push for international recognition that complicates the Obama administration's efforts to restart stalled Mideast peace talks.
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 said he hopes the symbolic act would help 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 US 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 Palestine as an independent state, something the US has said it will not do until there is a negotiated peace deal with Israel.
Palestinian statehood is "an international interest, a US interest and in the interest of all the parties in the Middle East," Areikat said.
'We're proud.' Palestinian flag in Washington (Photo: AFP)
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.
The US opposes any unilateral Palestinian move to establish statehood, but several other nations, notably in Latin America, have recently recognized Palestine, and the Palestinians are seeking broader support to bring statehood before the UN in September.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, denounced the flag-raising as a stunt.
"Raising this flag in DC 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 in a statement.
In the meantime, the Palestinians are continuing to push for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for ongoing settlement activity in the West Bank. That could be brought to the council as early as this week.
Combined with the push for international recognition, the resolution puts the administration in a difficult position. The United States is opposed to the construction of Israeli housing settlements but at the same time does not want to endorse a resolution that is critical only of Israel, its main Mideast ally.
US officials are grappling with whether or not to veto the resolution should it come to a vote in the council.
On Tuesday, 17 senators led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging the administration to veto the move and "make it clear to the Palestinian Authority that it needs to sit down in direct talks with Israel, rather than pursue unhelpful resolutions at the United Nations."
In the West Bank, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians and their backers have agreed on the wording for the anti-settlement resolution. He said he expects it to be submitted to the Security Council in coming days.
Erekat said he believes the resolution will have the support of at least 14 council members, but that the Palestinians still hope the US will also vote in favor and turn it into a unanimous decision.
Another Palestinian official said several Security Council members and Arab countries have asked the Palestinians to hold off for several days in hopes of persuading the US not to veto the resolution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.