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State Department Report on PLO Sparks Criticism and Controversy

A second State Department report certifying Palestine Liberation Organization compliance with its peace agreements with Israel has drawn sharp criticism from members of Congress and some pro-Israel activists.

While citing PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s failure to root out terrorism, confiscate weapons, prosecute Palestinian terrorists and amend the PLO covenant calling for the destruction of Israel, the report rules that the PLO’s “good faith” effort warrants the determination.

The report, mandated every six months according to legislation passed by Congress, paves the way for President Clinton to authorize financial assistance to the Palestinians. White House officials say president Clinton plans to adopt the report’s recommendation and ask Congress for an allocation of up to $150 million for the Palestinian Authority, which governs the autonomous areas of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho. The administration has pledged a total of $500 million over five year to the Palestinians.

At the same time, however, the report – and the reaction it has elicited – is expected to become a weapon in the ongoing battle on Capitol Hill over continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

The 13-page State Department report, released last Friday, details dozens of incidents of PLO actions that contradict its peace accord signed with Israel last year. But is also seeks to explain some of the PLO actions.

For example, the report cites PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Nov. 15 comments at a Gaza rally, during which he called Israel “the Zionist enemy.”

“While this remark is reminiscent of an earlier era before the PLO acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, the broader pattern of Arafat’s actions and statements demonstrates his acceptance of Israel and commitment to the negotiations,” the report states.

The report also praised Arafat for turning over to Israeli forces a murder suspect hiding in Gaza.

The report’s mild language and conciliatory approach toward the Palestinians prompted a flurry of criticism, with some activist accusing the State Department of adhering to a low standard and a minimalist definition of compliance.

Expressing “disappointment” with the findings, Steve Grossman, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said, “The time has come for Arafat to ratchet up his compliance with his commitments.”

“If the Israeli people, the American people and Congress are going to have full faith in Arafat, then he needs to be more assiduous and steadfast in his efforts,” Grossman said.

Although critical of the report and of some of Arafat’s actions, Grossman said that AIPAC continues to support American aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In contrast, the Zionist Organization of America was not only sharply critical of the report, but also plans to challenge continued aid to the Palestinians.

“The State Department has ignored, minimized and whitewashed the PLO’s numerous and serious violations,” said ZOA President Morton Klein.

“The report is simply a farce that refuses to look truth in the eye,” Klein said.

State Department officials have defended the report’s findings and its purpose.

“We need to weigh the need for aid to the Palestinians against a higher standard of compliance,” a State Department official said, referring to the report in a recent interview.

“Any cutoff of American aid or a perceived weakening of American support for the Palestinian Authority could have catastrophic effects for the Palestinians, Israelis and the entire peace process,” the official said.

Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on down, have expressed similar views, strongly lobbying in favor of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, despite reservations about compliance.

During a recent interview here, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said, “The peace process would surely fail without American aid to the Palestinian Authority.”

Because of this concern about aid, Israeli officials reportedly have attacked AIPAC’s offensive against the State Department report.

According to reports in the Israeli media over the weekend, Israeli officials expressed concern that opponents of aid to the PLO will try to capitalize on the preeminent pro-Israel lobby’s criticism of the report.

In an apparent effort to prevent an anti-aid backlash in the American Jewish community as a result of reaction to the report, Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich called leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reiterate Israeli’s official position, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the group’s executive vice chairman.

Americans for Peace Now, which expressed support for the sense of the report, also feared that opponents of the PLO-Israel agreement would “seize on this report as a way to disrupt aid,” said Linda Heller Kamm, the group’s co- president.

While Kamm said that the Palestinians have not lived up to all of their agreements, she is “encouraged by their progress.”

Klein said he plans to do exactly what Israeli officials and others fear opponents of aid and the accord might do.

Klein said that as he takes his case to the 104th Congress, he plans to use the report and AIPAC’s criticism of it as a rallying cry against aid to the Palestinians.

Controversy over the State Department report adds another layer to what is expected to become a major battle in the new Congress over aid to the Palestinians.

With incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) opposed to foreign aid and hostile to the peace process, which he has labeled a “fraud,” advocates of the process and of ongoing aid to the Palestinians say they will have their hands full.

Klein has led the charge on Capitol Hill to keep Arafat’s “feet to the fire” in complying with the accords through Peace Accord Monitoring groups.

The PAM groups currently boast 45 returning members in both the House and Senate. Klein plans to continue recruiting new members. Rep. Jon Fox (R-Pa.), the only new Jewish member of Congress, recently signed on, Klein said.

The co-chairman of the House PAM group, Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), echoed the expressions of “disappointment” in the report.

“In essence, we are giving the Palestinian National Authority an enormous amount of foreign aid with no strings attached,” Saxton said.

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