By Gerard Leval
Special to WJW
For years, those of us who live in the Georgetown-Burleith area of Washington and shop at the so-called “social Safeway” have had to endure a troublesome sight as we have made our way to the store. Just a block to the south, at 1732 Wisconsin Ave., stands a structure that for years flew two large black, white, green and red flags — the flags of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Endowed with all of the accouterments of an embassy, the presence of the four-story red brick building as an official PLO mission to the United States was a source of consternation to those of us who support the existence of the State of Israel. Every trip to purchase food at the supermarket was punctuated by the angst of passing by a building proudly housing a group dedicated to the displacement of Israel and its people and unabashedly supporting acts of terrorism against Jews.
It is difficult to describe the sense of relief that many of us felt when, in 2018, the State Department announced that it had decided to shut down the PLO’s Wisconsin Avenue mission. The State Department statement indicated that the decision to close down the mission was because the “PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” This was an accurate statement, but it was also incomplete.
Over the course of decades, the PLO has tolerated and, in some cases, sponsored reprehensible acts of violence against Israelis. An endless flow of anti-Israel invective has emanated from the organization, as have blatantly anti-Semitic comments. Killers of Jews have been (and continue to be) rewarded by the PLO. Shutting down the offices of such a group seemed eminently appropriate, not just because of the recalcitrance of the Palestinians, but because of the PLO’s behavior and the harm that its members have repeatedly inflicted on Israel.
Following the announcement of the closure, it took some time before the mission was actually shut down. When that event finally occurred, it engendered a sense of satisfaction. For individuals with a belief in the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, the notion that a group advocating harm to our fellow Jews and the destruction of the Jewish homeland could have a respectable presence on the streets of our nation’s capital had been deeply disturbing. The actual closing of the PLO mission brought a feeling of relief.
There nonetheless remained one discordant note. Over the course of the time since the PLO mission was closed, one of the two large Palestinian flags that adorned the PLO mission continued to fly over the building. Time has had its effect. The flag is now faded and in tatters, but it still flies. Many of us have been waiting for the last shreds of the flag to disintegrate and leave Wisconsin Avenue devoid of a banner that symbolizes hatred of Israel.
Eliminating the official PLO presence in Washington was a small step. It was, however, an important symbolic move. It deprived an organization that stands for the vilification of Jews and for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state from having the diplomatic standing it craves.
Now, President Joe Biden has declared that he intends to allow the PLO mission to reopen. He appears willing to provide the PLO with funds and encouragement to continue its obstructionism and worse. He is prepared to do this in the face of the dramatic changes that have recently taken place in the Middle East and that suggest that the Arab world is itself disillusioned with the behavior of the Palestinians.
The president’s decision seems without justification. Allowing the reopening of a diplomatic mission and the hoisting of the flag of a group determined to harm Israel, as it remains unwilling to accept proposal after proposal for the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state or even to enter into negotiations, cannot but encourage an intransigence that has already cost far too many lives.
Symbols are important. Granting authority to any group to open a diplomatic mission and to permit its flag to proudly fly overhead is laden with significance. So it would be with the reopening of a PLO mission. But, the PLO does not deserve elevated status. Its flag has no place here. Indeed, the tattered remains of the Palestinian flag, a sad remnant of a failed policy, should be brought down to remove all signs of that failure.
Hopefully, Biden, who has been referred to as “Israel’s friend,” will come to realize that bestowing diplomatic respectability to an organization dedicated to violence and hatred of Israel and its Jewish citizens is not appropriate. After all, friends don’t empower their friend’s enemy. Perhaps, then, the tattered flag will finally come down and will not be replaced.
Gerard Leval is a partner in a Washington law firm.