Last week, two items related to this region seemed to have crossed in the mail between the Bush Administration and Capitol Hill: a State Department report on whether the Palestinian Authority is supporting terrorism, and letters from the House and the Senate urging a reassessment of US policy toward the Palestinians. The State Department report shows why Congress is right that such a reassessment is overdue.
The semi-annual State Department report to Congress was sent pursuant to the PLO Commitments Compliance Act of 1989 (PLOCCA), a law passed in the wake of congressional skepticism that the PLO would keep its promise to renounce terrorism. That promise was made by Yasser Arafat in late 1988 to the lame-duck Reagan Administration, which lifted the US ban on contacts with the PLO and its listing as a terrorist organization.
A few years later, the first Bush Administration suspended the US-PLO "dialogue" when the evidence became overwhelming that the PLO - and not splinter organizations - had a direct hand in terrorist attacks against Israel. Official contact between the US and the PLO resumed again in September 1993, surrounding the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn.
Last week's PLOCCA report was significant in that it was the first since Arafat's post-Camp David offensive began in late September. The latest report was reminiscent of those in the early years of the US-PLO dialogue, in which the State Department went through contortions to stay somewhat faithful to the truth without implicating the PLO leadership in terrorist attacks.
On the one hand, the State Department provides a fairly detailed accounting of attacks against Israelis by the Fatah Tanzim and by members of the Palestinian Authority security forces. On the other, the report provides analytical gems such as this: "While it is difficult to determine who, if anyone, planned specific instances of anti-Israeli violence, public statements by leaders of the Tanzim certainly encouraged violence. The degree of responsibility by senior PLO and PA officials was less clear."
It takes a great degree of imagination, naivete, cynicism, or some combination thereof to believe that the Palestinian leadership is not responsible for an attack spearheaded by Fatah, the faction of the PLO founded and led by Arafat. Even in the unlikely event that the State Department could, with a straight face, claim that none of the attacks against Israel were ordered by the PA leadership, what cannot be claimed is that the PA opposed or acted to prevent the wave of attacks against Israel.
The State Department, for example, ignored statements by PA officials such as Faisal Husseini, Communication Minister Imad Faluji, and International Cooperation Minister Nabil Sha'ath that proudly justified Palestinian attacks against Israel. Sha'ath, speaking on October 7, could not have been more explicit: "You cannot exclude the use of any weapon that can be used with international legitimacy in order to end the occupation of our lands... President Arafat always said: 'All options are open.' It is [the Palestinians'] fate to fight and negotiate at one and the same time."
Congress, to its credit, is not buying the State Department's attempt to keep the Palestinian leadership off the hook. In letters to President George Bush signed by 87 Senators and 209 House members, Congress stated flatly that "the Palestinians have initiated on average over 30 'incidents' a day against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Initially, rocks and guns were used; increasingly, it is mortars and anti-tank missiles. Many of the attacks are well-planned operations involving the highest levels of the Palestinian security forces, openly led by the PLO's own militia."
The congressional letters requested that the US reassess its entire relationship with the Palestinian leadership, in light of the fact that this relationship is based on the Palestinian rejection of terrorism and commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes. The letters stated further that, "from our perspective, it is time for the United States to require that the leadership of the Palestinians speak and act against the continuing violence and terrorism, or face a significant change in our relationship with them."
The congressional letters, coupled with Bush's veto of a scandalously-biased UN Security Council resolution and his explicit demand that Arafat end the violence, are critical signs that Arafat's offensive has reached a dead end.
Secretary of State Colin Powell should tell Arafat that last week's report was the last time the State Department will cover for him. Six months (at most) from now, Arafat risks not just the lack of a White House invitation, but a return to the days of being a pariah leader of a terrorist organization.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post