Larry Luxner talks to the Palestine Liberation Organization's envoy in Washington DC.
Hasan Abdel-Rahman always had a desire to see the world, it was his burning curiosity that in the early 1960s led him' from his small West Bank village near Ramallah to Amman, Damascus, on to South America and, most recently, to the capital of the United States.
Today, Abdel-Rahman, 53, is the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the US. Although he neither carries the title of ambassador nor enjoys diplomatic immunity, Abdel-Rahman is Yasser Arafat's man in Washington -- and the Palestinian peoples' official voice in a nation that for years viewed Arafat and the PLO as little more than a bunch of terrorists.
Sitting at his desk under a framed portrait of the famous Palestinian leader, Abdel-Rahman -- who speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some French in addition to his native Arabic -- talked to The Middle East about what it is like to represent a nation that has yet to be born in the traditional sense.
"It's a country, but it's not a full state," he explained, showing his newly issued red Palestinian passport during a recent interview. "It's a government that has jurisdiction over people and over land. The PLO is recognised as the representative of these people and it conducts foreign relations on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority."
According to Abdel-Rahman, nearly all of the PLO's 95 diplomatic missions abroad have full embassy status -- particularly in Asian, African and Arab nations that traditionally sided with the Palestinians in the armed struggle against Israel that has defined the PLO during most of its 34-year existence.
In Washington, the Palestinians have staffed a mission since 1979 under various names -- first as the Palestine Information Office, then from 1988 until 1993 as the Palestine Affairs Centre. After the Oslo peace accords were signed between Israel and the PLO, the modest mission changed its name once again, becoming the PLO Representative Office. Little distinguishes this office from any other diplomatic legation in Washington, except for the obligatory photos of Arafat on the walls, a laminated-wood clock in the shape of Palestine, flyers urging the United States not to invade Iraq and a framed picture of President Clinton, Arafat and the late Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands on the White House lawn.
For Abdel-Rahman, being in Washington is the culmination of a lifetime of political...