Biden pledge to reopen PLO mission in Washington faces legal hurdles

Published January 30, 2021
Flags fly over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington in this 2018 file photo. — Reuters
Flags fly over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington in this 2018 file photo. — Reuters

JERUSALEM: US President Joe Biden’s plan to work to reopen the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington could be held up over a law that exposes Palestinian officials to US anti-terror lawsuits, officials and advisers to the Palestinians say.

The Biden administration hopes to repair relations with the Palestinians after a sharp deterioration under former President Donald Trump, who closed the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Washington office in 2018 and cut millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But under an anti-terror amendment passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump in 2019, the Palestinians would become liable for $655.5 million in financial penalties against them in US courts if they open an office in the United States.

There are also questions about how Biden will fulfil a pledge to resume economic aid to the Palestinians. The Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress in 2018, restricts some aid until the Palestinians end payments to people jailed by Israel over violent crimes, among other conditions.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Acting US envoy Richard Mills said Washington “intended to take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed for the last US administration”, without giving a timeline.

The legal hurdles underscore the range of challenges Biden may face in restoring ties with the Palestinians and reversing actions taken by Trump, who overturned longtime US Middle East policy with a series of pro-Israel steps including ending US opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians say his actions discredited the longtime US role as chief mediator in their conflict with Israel and further dimmed any chance of a peace deal envisaging a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Palestinian leaders have welcomed Biden’s pledges of rapprochement, but while he can reverse some measures through executive orders, others involve laws passed by Congress and are not as easily changed.

Asked for comment, a US State Department official said: “In administering aid, the Biden-Harris Administration will fully comply with US law including the Taylor Force Act.” The official did not comment on whether the Biden administration would look into working around the anti-terror amendment to help rebuild relations with the Palestinians.

Talks are ongoing with the administration and Congress about finding a “fix” to the amendment that would allow the PLO mission to reopen, an American legal adviser to the Palestinians said, adding that the Palestinians “don’t have the money to pay” the financial claims against them.

Palestinian officials declined to comment.

A Biden adviser said just before the Nov 3 election that Biden would seek to reopen the PLO mission to Washington but added: “There is a law that could make that more challenging.” The anti-terror amendment makes the Palestinians liable for the hefty financial penalty that a US jury awarded against them if they establish or maintain any facilities in the United States, conduct activity on behalf of the PLO or the Palestinian Authority, or make payments to Palestinians imprisoned over violent crimes against Americans, among other conditions.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

Reforming militants
24 Jul, 2024

Reforming militants

Such initiatives have been tried before, in Swat for instance, at centres run by the military as well as NGOs.
IPP debate
24 Jul, 2024

IPP debate

A FIERCE debate blaming the exorbitant electricity prices on expensive power purchase agreements with IPPs has been...
Political vendettas
24 Jul, 2024

Political vendettas

IT seems that the PML-N and PPP need to be reminded again that they are doing themselves a considerable disservice ...
Security concerns
23 Jul, 2024

Security concerns

All stakeholders want what is best for the country and its people; their differing approaches shouldn’t be viewed with such suspicion all the time.
Frankfurt vandalism
23 Jul, 2024

Frankfurt vandalism

THE state needs to seek serious answers from the German authorities regarding the July 20 mob attack targeting...
Stressed cotton economy
23 Jul, 2024

Stressed cotton economy

DECREASING cotton production should be a worry for the government because of its socioeconomic implications. Early...