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Senate may close PLO office amid U.N. push

| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011

WASHINGTON -- In a blunt message to the Palestinians, a Senate panel on Wednesday threatened to close the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Washington if it defies the United States and Israel by pursuing a unilateral bid for statehood at the United Nations.

The vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee was taken as the United States and France pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon his bid for membership and return to negotiations with Israel. The diplomatic maneuvering unfolded in New York as the United Nations opened its annual meeting, with Abbas expected to submit his letter of application on Friday and the United States vowing a veto in the U.N. Security Council.

In Congress, frustrated lawmakers used the committee's debate and approval of a $53 billion bill to fund the State Department and foreign operations next year to signal there would be consequences if the Palestinians press ahead.

"This is all falling apart," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the top Republican on the foreign operations subcommittee and sponsor of the amendment, who railed against the Palestinian move.

The amendment to the foreign aid bill would seek recommendations from the secretary of State on what appropriate steps Congress should take, especially possible closure of the PLO office in the United States, if the Palestinians seek statehood recognition at the United Nations rather than pursue direct negotiations with Israel.

Palestinians flew their flag over their diplomatic mission in Washington for the first time in January. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, Republican and Democratic presidents have signed waivers allowing the mission to operate.

The committee approved the amendment by voice vote after several lawmakers expressed some concern about acting while the Obama administration was scrambling to avoid a showdown at the United Nations.

The bill is $6.2 billion less than President Obama requested, with cuts and limits on funds for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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