National Press Club

Palestinians won't abandon drive for full UN membership, says chief U.S. representative

December 7, 2011 | By Robert Webb | rewebb@aol.com

Palestinians will push for full membership as a state in the United Nations while continuing their non-violent protests of the wall Israel built, said Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Delegation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the United States, at a Dec. 6 Newsmaker.

Areikat lamented what he called U.S. pressure on other countries to delay UN membership.

Areikat acknowledged the continuing struggle between Hamas and Fatah in representing the Palestinians. But he said that is an "internal" affair unrelated to Israel.

"We've got full membership in UNESCO," he said, much to the chagrin of the United States.

The dispute over its entry into UNESCO does not involve values, according to Areikat. "Politics is playing the major role," he said.

He expressed dismay that the United States would oppose its membership in an organization committed to what he called noble goals, such as improving education.

Areikat said he hopes Hamas-Fatah differences are resolved before the Palestinian elections in May.

He emphasized that elimination of the wall is one of the PLO's major aims.

"Our protests are non-violent and will continue to be non-violent," Areikat said.

He said the Palestinians would welcome peace talks with the Israelis but contended that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "talks peace but does not follow through."

He said that the PLO recognizes Israel as a legitimate state.

"We did that long ago," Areikat said. "What we don't do is recognize it as a Jewish state" because of its large number of Palestinian residents. He conceded Jewish fears about continued increase in the Palestinian population.

Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands are aimed at controlling that growth, Areikat said.

China's expanding global influence extends to the Middle East. Areikat said that the Chinese have long been helpful to the Palestinians' cause.

Areikat, who was born in Jericho in 1960, is a 1983 graduate of Arizona State University and received a Master's degree from Western International University.

He served in the PLO's Negotiation Affairs Office for 11 years in Ramallah. He was appointed chief of the PLO's U.S. delegation in 2009.