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NY City Council Debates Presence of PLO's UN Office - 2002-07-09

While President Bush addressed Wall Street Tuesday the New York City Council discussed a resolution asking the U.S. government to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] Mission to the United Nations.

Several members of New York's City Council are calling for President Bush to declare the Palestinian Authority, and the PLO, terrorist organizations. They cite recent evidence released by Israel and Palestinian suicide bombing attacks against Israel.

The Council members accuse the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat, of harboring and sponsoring terrorism, "spreading bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East."

The Council members say no such organization should be permitted to function in New York City. They say its presence here threatens the safety of New Yorkers.

Local government in New York does not have the authority to evict the PLO Mission to the United Nations, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has refused to pursue the measure.

Council member Oliver Koppell, who held a news conference at City Hall, near the site where the World Trade Center once stood, introduced the resolution discussed in the City Council.

"Just as al-Qaeda set to use terrorism only a few blocks from here, and murdered 3,000 Americans, would we accept an office of al-Qaeda in New York City? I hope not," he said. "It is a declared policy of the American government not to negotiate with terrorists. If that is so, the office should be closed and the Palestinian Authority should be declared a terrorist organization until they legitimately renounce terrorism."

Activists holding anti-PLO signs demonstrated in front of City Hall in support of Mr. Koppel's motion.

A spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee [ADC] was there too, accusing the council members of racism. ADC spokeswoman Monica Tarazi testified at the New York City Council hearing in support of an alternative resolution, calling for an "even-handed approach" to the Middle East.

"Every single speaker that I listened to referred to Palestinians as terrorists," she said. "...that kind of portrayal is appalling and racist."

Ms. Tarazi says the New York City Council should condemn the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and acts of violence, which have taken the lives of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

The Palestinian Mission, which has had non-voting observer status at the United Nations since 1974, had no comment on the local effort to shut down the office. But when the resolution was introduced earlier this year, a PLO spokesman condemned terrorism and said the Mission works peacefully for the Palestinian cause.