WASHINGTON – The Palestine Liberation Organization for the first time hoisted its flag above its Washington mission Tuesday, saying the symbolic step shows progress in the US-Palestinian relationship.

“It’s about time that this flag that symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood be raised in the United States,” said PLO chief of mission Maen Areikat. “I think it indicates the willingness of the American administration to deal with the realities on the ground.”

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Areikat unfurled the red, black, green and white flag above the brick Washington building housing the mission to applause from a small group of officials.

He said that US permission to officially raise the flag at this time “means that the administration is serious, that they want to see the struggle of the Palestinian people concluded and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Areikat said the Palestinians are urging the US government to now take concrete actions to make that state a reality.

Some in Washington opposed the move, however, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida).

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state,” she charged in a statement.

She said the flag-hoisting continues the effort on the part of Palestinians to be recognized by foreign governments, and that it’s “part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.”

Ros-Lehtinen also criticized the Obama administration, saying, “The US has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in US law.”

But Ghaith al-Omari, advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, defended the move and said it showed that the Palestinian Authority was making progress in the West Bank that was worth recognition.

“The PLO mission would never have been made upgraded if it had not been for the progress the Palestinians have made … on improving security and governance,” he argued.

“It shows the Palestinians that once they start building their institutions and [using] diplomacy, that there are political dividends for that behavior,” he said, continuing that such positive reinforcement “is very useful.”

He added that Palestinians understood that such steps would not replace direct negotiations.

“Everyone knows ultimately a Palestinian state will not come into being without an agreement,” he said.