Senior PLO Official Cries Foul as US Drops Kach Terrorist Designation
Supporters of the Kahane Chai organization protest in the US against the Oslo Accords in an undated photo. (Lee Corkran/Sygma via Getty Images)

Senior PLO Official Cries Foul as US Drops Kach Terrorist Designation

Hussein al-Sheikh decries continued ‘unjust classification’ of PLO as terror organization

Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh has addressed a letter of protest to President Joe Biden after the US State Department revoked the designation of the inactive, far-right Israeli Kach, or Kahane Chai, group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) but left the PLO’s FTO status intact.

Describing the contents of his letter, Sheikh said, “We expressed our astonishment and our absolute rejection of the persistence of this unjust classification of a people under occupation at a time when the Kach terrorist organization is removed from those lists.”

The letter follows last Friday’s State Department press release announcing the revocation of five FTO designations, including that of Kahane Chai.

The State Department sought to clarify that the revocations were not intended as a political statement. Rather, “as required by the INA [the US Immigration and Nationality Act], the department reviews FTO designations every five years to determine if the circumstances that were the basis of the designations have changed in such a manner as to warrant a revocation.”

Yet some analysts see the announcement as representing a double standard.

Amneh Badran, an assistant professor of political science at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line, “I think this signals a message from the US administration to the Palestinians that we support the extreme right in Israel. And we need to accept that. We should stop being shocked by the American administration.”

The US Congress classified the PLO as a terrorist organization in 1987 and passed a law saying it would not be permitted to open an office in the United States.

The original Palestinian National Charter of the PLO, adopted in 1964, contained 33 articles calling for the destruction of Israel. Moreover, during the 1970s and 1980s, the PLO was responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the assassination of 11 Israeli sportsmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and attacks on Israeli buses in 1978 that resulted in 35 deaths and left 85 wounded.

However, Professor Badran pointed out that the situation has changed since the Oslo interim peace agreement of 1993. Ahead of the signing of the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat, the late chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestine Authority, recognized Israel’s right to exist, renounced terrorism, and pledged to remove those clauses from the charter that called for the destruction of Israel.

However, whether that pledge has been carried out is a matter of dispute.

Since then, every US president except Donald Trump supplied an exemption on the US office ban in order to maintain lines of communication with the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people.

Badran told The Media Line that Palestinians have been disappointed by the behavior of the Biden Administration.

“Trump was quite provocative in his political declarations and positions against the Palestinians. Biden and his foreign minister [Secretary of State Antony Blinken] give softer declarations, but the outcome is somehow quite similar,” she said.

Considering the Biden Administration’s attitude, Badran is pessimistic about the potential for cooperation, predicting that the PLO office in the US, and the Israeli consulate in East Jerusalem, most probably will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

This has been the situation since September 2018, when Trump closed the PLO office in Washington and froze its financial assets to prevent ongoing Palestinian cooperation with the International Criminal Court against Israeli interests.

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations and associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, explained what he called the hypocrisy of the situation to The Media Line.

“The PLO, as such, is not a terrorist organization. It has a militant wing that committed terrorism back in history, but the PLO is also acknowledged internationally, including by Israel, as the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” Mekelberg said.

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that offshoots of the PLO, such as the military wing of Fatah, also remain on the list, leading Badran to question what the overall effect of a revocation would be.

She explained, “Again, we need to remember another point, that many of the organizations, or factions, that are members of the PLO, are also on the list of the State Department.

“So, in a sense, there has been an American attitude towards the Palestinian leadership and institution- we work with you but we will continue to have the upper hand. We don’t think you are qualified to be taken off the list,” Badran continued.

Conversely, Kach and Kahane Chai were officially banned as fringe political parties in 1994 in accordance with Israel’s 1948 anti-terrorism laws, after leading figures expressed support for Baruch Goldstein, a right-wing extremist who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in February 1994. Meir Kahane, the founder of the Kahanist movement, was assassinated in Manhattan in 1990.

Kach and Kahane Chai are inactive, and as such, the US government no longer considers that they pose a security threat.

However, concerns remain over contemporary followers of Kahane, some of whom remain active in Israeli politics.

Mekelberg explained to The Media Line, “Disciples of his [Kahane] – [member of Knesset] Itamar Ben-Gvir and others − they are not about calling for a two-state solution, they are inciting violence. Racism, by definition, that’s what defines Kahane.”

Current members of the religious right, such as Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party, which ran as part of the Religious Zionism list in the last election, have been accused of intentionally stirring up hostilities.

“It’s enough to see what they are trying to do with the Flag March [next Sunday, celebrating the 1967 unification of Jerusalem under Israeli control]. It’s deliberately trying to create friction,” Mekelberg added.

He went on to suggest that the end goal for the radical religious right is to draw the IDF and police into conflict with Palestinians, arguing, “They are protected by the state. By creating friction, they know that the next stage would be to get the state involved in violence.”

Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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