The State Department announced Tuesday that it has ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization to close its Washington office within 30 days.
“This action is being taken to demonstrate U.S. concern over terrorism committed and supported by organizations and individuals affiliated with the PLO,” spokesman Charles Redman said.
He said the PLO could maintain its New York office, which has observer status at the United Nations.
Redman said the Washington office had operated as a foreign mission and therefore could be closed despite the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-association guarantees.
However, the State Department official said the United States “fully supports the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and respects their efforts to achieve these rights through a process of peaceful negotiations.”
To back up the U.S. terrorism charges, Redman cited membership on the PLO Executive Council of Abul Abbas--who is accused in the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in which an American passenger was slain--and the reaffiliation of radical Palestinian groups with the PLO.
Meanwhile, a PLO spokesman confirmed that the office has received a letter from the State Department declaring it a mission and ordering it to cease operations.
Hasan Rahman said the letter arrived at the Palestine Information Center late in the day, after conflicting reports had surfaced about closing the office.
“It’s an ambiguous, confusing and confused letter,” Hasan said, refusing to divulge the contents. He said he will consult lawyers and discuss the action at a press conference Wednesday in the PLO’s office, despite the order.
The State Department’s decision was disclosed earlier Tuesday by Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who is running for the GOP presidential nomination. Kemp issued a two-page statement treating the shutdown as a fait accompli and hailing it as “a strong signal to the rest of the world that America’s war on terrorism is being waged strongly.”
“The State Department’s decision is a positive step,” Kemp said. “Now we must continue our war on terrorism until the PLO’s New York office is put out of business.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the decision was worked out in negotiations between the department and representatives of the American-Israel Political Action Committee, a pro-Israeli lobbying organization.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, called the closing “a significant step forward in the ongoing struggle against terrorism.”
Rahman maintained it “would be absolutely illegal and unconstitutional” for the State Department to close the PLO offices.
“This is an American office legally registered with the Department of Justice,” he said.
Morton H. Halperin, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group also believes the action is unconstitutional and plans to fight it.
James Zogby, director of the Arab-American Institute, called the decision “an election year response to pressure.”
He said closing the PLO office “does not contribute to stopping violence because there is a cycle of violence. You need to talk to people if you want to stop violence, not shut them down or close them up.”
The American-Arab Relations Committee in New York said it will call on Arab states to retaliate and that it will fight the order all the way to the Supreme Court, if that is necessary.
“If the State Department closes the offices of PLO in Washington, we shall urge Arab states to close the offices of the U.S. Information Service in 22 Arab capitals,” M.T. Mehdi, president of the committee, said in a telegram to Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Mehdi charged that the State Department, under Zionist pressure, was “subverting” the Constitution by “denying the American people their right to hear the Palestinian viewpoint.”