Commentary Magazine


Topic: PLO

New York Times: Soft Spot for Khalidi?

There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

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There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

Note this phrase: “Critics have accused…” Today’s article thus repeats a trope that appeared back in 2008, when the Times ran a piece on Khalidi prompted by his past association with Barack Obama:

He taught at universities in Lebanon until the mid-’80s, and some critics accuse him of having been a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Khalidi has denied working for the group, and says he was consulted as an expert by reporters seeking to understand it.

Again, it’s the “critics” who “accuse him.”

Well, I’m a critic, but we critics didn’t just imagine Khalidi’s PLO affiliation. We were alerted to it by a parade of highly regarded journalists, including two from the New York Times. So here are the “critics” who first leveled the “accusation” (still more sourcing here):

• Joe Alex Morris Jr., reporting from Beirut for the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 1976, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a PLO spokesman.”

• James M. Markham, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on February 19, 1978, quoted Khalidi and described him as “an American-educated Palestinian who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and also works for the P.L.O.”

• A Pacifica Radio documentary, reporting in 1979 from Beirut, interviewed Khalidi “at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut,” and described him as “an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service Wafa,” “PLO spokesperson,” “official spokesperson for the PLO,” and “the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa.”

• Thomas Friedman, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on June 9, 1982, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.”

• Doyle McManus, reporting on rumored American-PLO contacts in the Los Angeles Times on February 20, 1984, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a former PLO official.”

• James Rainey, reporting on Khalidi’s connection to Obama for the Los Angeles Times on October 30, 2008, described him as “a renowned scholar on the Palestinians who in the 1970s had acted as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.” (As I noted at the time, the Los Angeles Times thus honorably stood by the 1976 reportage of its legendary, long-dead Beirut correspondent, Joe Alex Morris Jr.)

• Thomas W. Lippman, for thirty years a diplomatic, national security, and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, in a letter published in that paper on November 1, 2008, wrote that “Khalidi was indeed ‘a PLO spokesman.’ In the early years of the Lebanese civil war, Mr. Khalidi was the Beirut-based spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his office was a stop on the daily rounds of journalists covering that conflict. As we used to say in the pre-electronic newspaper business: Check the clips.”

None of these people were or are “critics” of Rashid Khalidi, and two of them were reporting for the New York Times itself. So why does the Times repeatedly inform us that it is only Khalidi’s “critics” who have “accused” him, when in fact a raft of esteemed journalists who interviewed him in Beirut identified him as a PLO spokesman, as a fact? This is not another he-said she-said (or Jew-says Arab-says) question. As Thomas Lippman said: Check the clips.

This is another opportunity to urge the New York Times to get off its derriere and get to the bottom of the Khalidi story. It is unthinkable that a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated U.S. citizen operated in PLO headquarters in Beirut in the late 1970s, and wasn’t known to the personnel of the U.S. embassy and the CIA station. That was over thirty years ago, so some documents must have been declassified. Can we get some investigative reporting here? Instead all we’ve ever read about Khalidi in the Times is the puff piece. How boring.

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Palestinians Move to Breach Process

Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

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Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

Since negotiations began in July, Israel has stood by its part of the agreement and so far released 78 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners due for release. As part of this arrangement, the final group of prisoners is to be released ten weeks from now, at the end of March.

During this same nine-month period the Palestinian Authority was obligated not to take unilateral moves toward statehood outside of the agreed-upon negotiation framework. This period is due to end in April. Israel has requested that this window for negotiations be extended, but Abbas has already stated that the Palestinians will not continue peace talks beyond that date. Now, at a meeting Abbas chaired in Ramallah on Monday, the Executive Committee of the PLO announced the decision to resume its moves to seek membership in U.N. bodies, in direct contravention of the agreed-upon peace framework.

The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reports that the statement released by the PLO announces that the Executive Committee has called on its political committee to immediately prepare an operative plan “to implement [the] UN General Assembly resolution that granted Palestine a non-member observer status that allows it to join all UN international agencies.” This move should be of far more critical concern to Secretary Kerry and the State Department than the throwaway remarks of Minister Ya’alon. If the Palestinians are serious about pursuing this breach of their commitments, then Kerry’s peace plans could unravel even faster than many observers already expected them to.

The fact that over the weekend Abbas insisted that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that Jerusalem would have to be the Palestinian capital, and that the Palestinian refugees, or rather their descendants, would have to have a right of return to their lands, by which he means Israel, hardly bodes well for the outcome of Kerry’s talks. Nor does the fact that the Palestinians seem unwilling to countenance an extension of peace negotiations beyond April, or that from the beginning there have been constant noises from Palestinian negotiators about an imminent collapse of the talks.

The State Department can express its deep sense of offense at Ya’alon’s cynicism about the peace process if it wishes. Yet the fact that the Palestinians are already making contingency plans for the failure of the talks is an indication of just how much faith they really have in these negotiations reaching any kind of successful conclusion.    

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Abbas: PLO Charter Reflects What Palestinians Want

Secretary of State John Kerry is still trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, with another visit to the region expected “within days,” according to Jordan’s foreign minister. But nothing better illustrates the folly of this effort than last week’s comments by Israel’s ostensible “peace partner,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

At an event marking the 49th anniversary of the PLO’s founding, Abbas (according to a translation by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an) declared that PLO founder Ahmad Shuqueiri “was asked to figure out what the Palestinians wanted, and he returned with the convention for the PLO.” In other words, according to Abbas, the PLO’s founding document is an accurate reflection of what Palestinians want. And lest anyone has forgotten the contents of that 1964 document, still available on the website of the PLO’s UN mission, here are a few choice quotes:

Secretary of State John Kerry is still trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, with another visit to the region expected “within days,” according to Jordan’s foreign minister. But nothing better illustrates the folly of this effort than last week’s comments by Israel’s ostensible “peace partner,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

At an event marking the 49th anniversary of the PLO’s founding, Abbas (according to a translation by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an) declared that PLO founder Ahmad Shuqueiri “was asked to figure out what the Palestinians wanted, and he returned with the convention for the PLO.” In other words, according to Abbas, the PLO’s founding document is an accurate reflection of what Palestinians want. And lest anyone has forgotten the contents of that 1964 document, still available on the website of the PLO’s UN mission, here are a few choice quotes:

  • “The partitioning of Palestine, which took place in 1947, and the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time…” (Article 17)
  • “The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history … Judaism, because it is a divine religion, is not a nationality with independent existence. Furthermore, the Jews are not one people with an independent personality…” (Article 18)
  • “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims. Israel, in its capacity as the spearhead of this destructive movement and as the pillar of colonialism, is a permanent source of tension and turmoil in the Middle East…” (Article 19)
  • “The causes of peace and security and the requirements of right and justice demand from all nations … that they consider Zionism an illegal movement and outlaw its presence and activities” (Article 20)

The 1964 version is actually tame compared to the amended version adopted in 1968, but as the above quotes show, it’s more than sufficient to preclude any chance of peace. How can Israel possibly make peace with people who consider its very existence “illegal and null and void”; deny that Jews are a nation with any right to “independent existence”; deny any Jewish connection to the land of Israel; consider Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people, to be “colonialist,” “racist,” “fascist” and “illegal”; and believe that only by eliminating Zionism can “peace and security” and “right and justice” be achieved?

Nor has anything much changed in 49 years, as anyone who follows Palestinian Media Watch would know. Just last month, for instance, another senior PA official widely considered a “moderate” in the West, Jibril Rajoub, told a television interviewer, “We as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it [against Israel] this very morning.” PA officials and the official PA media still consistently deny the Jews’ historical connection to the land of Israel, teach their people that the ultimate goal is a world without Israel, and glorify those who murder Jews. And most Palestinians still think “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the state of Israel exists.”

Shuqueiri’s 1964 charter indeed reflects “what the Palestinians wanted”–and what they still want. And as long as that’s true, any “peace process” will be so much wasted time and effort.

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State Dept Says it Will Keep PLO Office Open

Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the State Department has decided to extend a waiver to the PLO mission office, keeping it open for at least another six months, the Hill reports:

The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel. 

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote. 

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Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the State Department has decided to extend a waiver to the PLO mission office, keeping it open for at least another six months, the Hill reports:

The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel. 

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote. 

This news isn’t exactly surprising, but to date the Palestinian Authority still hasn’t had to face any real repercussions for going against U.S. wishes at the United Nations. It could be the administration is trying to hold off to see whether the PA takes this further–attempting to petition the International Criminal Court or join UN agencies–before taking any action. But it almost encourages this behavior if there are no consequences, and it’s not as if closing the PLO mission is the administration’s only option in response to PA action. The PA also receives foreign aid, and so far there hasn’t been any sign the administration supports cutting it.

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House Members Circulate Letter to Close PLO Office

It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

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It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Royce is the incoming chair, indicating that this is likely to be taken up by the committee next year. Whether it would be considered as a standalone bill or an amendment is unclear at this point, and we probably won’t know more details until the beginning of the next session. But it’s a debate worth watching closely, in no small part because it pits left-wing lobby J Street (which opposes the initiative) against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which has supported it):

The initiative is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and opposed by the extreme left leaning groups of J Street and Peace Now.

Voicing its opposition, J Street, which has long been accused of espousing anti-Israel beliefs, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing the letter.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

J Street already claimed victory when a proposed amendment to close the PLO office wasn’t included in the defense authorization bill recently approved by the Senate. As I reported last week, there is no sign this had anything do with J Street’s supposed lobbying prowess. According to the office of Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors of the amendment, it wasn’t included because it wasn’t technically considered germane. Jewish community sources familiar with the issue also tell me that the Obama administration objected to the amendment, making it unlikely to pass through the unanimous consent process.

In total, around 400 amendments were reportedly proposed for the defense bill, and the majority weren’t included in the final legislation. But that still didn’t stop J Street from sending out this triumphant email headlined “Victory”:

Earlier this week, we asked you to help us stop the Senate from kicking the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission out of Washington, DC in retaliation for last week’s United Nations vote.

You responded, sending 14,500 emails and making almost 1,000 calls telling Senators the US should not take such a counterproductive step.

And, as ThinkProgress,1 JTA2 and The Forward3 have all made crystal clear: YOU DID IT. The Senate held back, and the amendment to expel the Palestinian Mission was dropped. 

Clearly J Street’s celebration was a little premature.

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The Case of the Disappearing PLO Mission Amendment

Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

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Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

It’s indeed a juicy indicator: immediately after the recent U.N. vote on upgrading Palestine’s status, AIPAC called for a “full review” of U.S. relations with the Palestinians, including closing the PLO’s office, and backed a measure that would do just that. A J Street campaign, on the other hand, marshaled 15,000 e-mails and phone calls to Congress opposing the amendment booting the PLO from D.C.

So, who won? J Street: the amendment, somewhat mysteriously, disappeared from the bill it was attached to. JTA‘s Ron Kampeas called it “a rare fail of the pro-Israel mainstream”—but that AIPAC no longer has the monopoly on the “pro-Israel mainstream” is precisely the lesson, by the lights of Alana Goodman, that we should take from this episode. The liberal group is gaining some real clout in Washington, and Goodman, having posited that the bill to punish Palestinians was a test, should pony up and acknowledge that, by even the metric she chose to introduce, J Street indeed can claim credit for some D.C. victories. Over to you, Alana.

Did the amendment “mysteriously” disappear, as Ali writes? No — well, at least not to anybody who bothered to pick up a phone and ask. The amendment was dropped from the bill because of a technicality in Senate procedure, according to Senator Lindsey Graham’s office, which sponsored it.

“Once cloture was invoked, the amendment was not eligible for a vote because it was not technically germane to the legislation,” said Graham spokesperson Kevin Bishop.

Bishop added that Graham “will continue to explore opportunities for passing the legislation.”

More than 400 amendments were filed on the defense authorization bill and debated for days. More than half of them were dropped, either because they were considered technically non-germane (like the amendment to close the PLO mission) or overly contentious (the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill if certain provisions were included). Typically, there is a lot of conflict over the defense authorization bill, but this year it passed easily through unanimous consent, largely because amendments that may have raised objections were taken out. Senators were eager to rush this thing out the door and focus on the fiscal cliff debate.

Was this because of J Street? I’m sure that’s what J Street would like people to believe. In fact, the amendment was one of hundreds that disappeared because of a procedural technicality or administration objection. “Mystery” solved.

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