- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The Palestine Liberation Organization said yesterday it has been forced to leave its D.C. offices at the same time support is building in Congress for a bill that would force the organization out of the United States.
Congressional leaders visited the White House yesterday to urge President Bush to stand by the Jewish state and ease up on calls for Israel to end a bloody military incursion into the West Bank.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, are the sponsors of the bill that would declare the PLO to be a terrorist organization and lift the U.S. visas of its representatives.
PLO representative Hassan Abdel Rahman said yesterday he was not surprised by the legislative effort.
"They been doing it for 20 years," he said. "But evicting us won't solve the conflict in the Middle East. It's just a cheap way to raise money by members of Congress and to please the Israel lobby."
The PLO representative made clear that "we do not support we oppose suicide bombing on legal, political and moral grounds."
Mr. Rahman confirmed that his group has had to leave its D.C. offices.
"Our lease expired," he said. "We wanted to renew it but [the landlords] said we could not."
The PLO is about to sign a lease for a new office not far from the K Street office it has been forced to vacate, Mr. Rahman said in an interview.
He was unwilling to discuss any political aspects of the move but was quoted by the Associated Press as accusing the landlords of succumbing to political pressure.
"Pro-Israeli sentiment is making life a little bit difficult for us," Mr. Rahman told AP. The eviction is part of an effort "to isolate and shut off the Palestinian voice."
Cushman & Wakefield, one of Washington's largest property management companies, evicted the PLO after it was late in paying its rent, reports said. This resulted in a "judgment for possession" that led to the PLO's vacating the property on April 6.
The building that housed the PLO office had been the scene of recent pro-Israel demonstrations, which also might have spooked the management.
Cushman and Wakefield Inc., based in New York, is one of the nation's largest commercial real-estate firms. It is the 19th-largest property manager in the Washington area, controlling 3.26 million square feet, according to real-estate researchers CoStar Group Inc.
While the PLO mission does not have the status of a foreign embassy or mission, it has been the main representative of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in the United States.
"The eviction does not come as a result of any action by the U.S. government," said State Department spokeswoman Eliza Koch.
"We believe it is important to continue to permit the PLO office to operate."
Congress voted to allow the PLO to set up an office in Washington after Mr. Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993.
"It is not an embassy nor has it ever been accorded any of the immunities or privileges of a diplomatic mission," said Ms. Koch.
"The question of rental payments and related matters between the PLO office and its landlord is not, however, subject to our regulation."
Support in Congress for the Feinstein-McConnell bill is expected to grow if documents Israel discovered in Ramallah prove that Mr. Arafat approved payments to suicide bombers.
Congressional leaders have appeared in recent days to be more supportive of Israel than President Bush. He has called on Israel to end its military incursion and sent Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to hurry up and end the operation.
"I don't think there has been any diminution of support" for Israel, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told reporters after meeting with Mr. Bush at the White House. He had been asked whether support for Mr. Sharon was eroding within Congress or the White House.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said: "This is a delicate time. We should not be expressing a lack of confidence in any of the players right now."
Asked about the apparently strong congressional backing for Israel, Mr. Rahman said, "What's new?
"Sharon is more tolerated by the U.S. Congress than the [Israeli] Knesset. Many of the congressmen are for sale or hire."

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