WASHINGTON (Feb. 7)
The State Department said Tuesday that the attempt by armed Palestinians to infiltrate Israel on Sunday would have a “negative impact” on the U.S. dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But Charles Redman, the department spokesman, refused to say whether the United States considered this a violation of the PLO promise not to engage in acts of terrorism.
Israel formally asked the United States on Monday to end its dialogue with the PLO on the grounds that the attempted infiltration from south Lebanon was proof that the PLO had not renounced terrorism, one of the conditions for talks with the United States.
The request was made by Oded Eran, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy here, to Ned Walker, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.
In a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Monday, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said the United States should break off talks with the PLO because it had broken its anti-terrorism pledge.
Redman said the United States takes the incident “very seriously” and has instructed Robert Pelletreau, the U.S. ambassador in Tunisia, to take up the case with the PLO officials. Pelletreau is the only U.S. diplomat authorized to meet with the PLO.
The incident Sunday occurred in the Israeli security zone in south Lebanon, five miles from the Israeli border. Israeli troops killed five of the nine terrorists who were carrying automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hand grenades and a pair of wire cutters.
The Israeli army said three of the dead men belonged to George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, while the other two were members of the Syrian-based Palestine Liberation Front.
The two radical groups, while members of the PLO, nevertheless rejected the statement by PLO leader Yasir Arafat at a press conference in Geneva Dec. 14 recognizing Israel’s right to exist and renouncing terrorism.
This statement was the basis for the United States agreeing later in the day to open a dialogue with the PLO.
However, Redman said that the U.S. position is that “we hold the PLO responsible for the acts of its constituent elements.”
But he refused to define how the United States will make a judgment on whether the PLO has broken its pledge. Redman said each incident will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
The PLO has maintained that acts against Israeli soldiers or within Israel itself are not terrorism.
“An incident of terrorism is terrorism wherever it occurs,” Redman said.
He also agreed with a statement by former Secretary of State George Shultz, at a luncheon at The Washington Post recently, that “when we said an end of terrorism, we mean an end of terrorism.”
The attempted infiltration was the first such since the U.S.-PLO dialogue began.