Two of Yasser Arafat’s loudest critics in Congress traveled to Gaza earlier this month to evoke a renewed pledge from the Palestinian leader to remove language from the Palestine Liberation Organization Covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel.
“Arafat said eyeball-to-eyeball that it would be out within two months of the [Palestinian] elections,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Palestinian elections are set for Saturday, at which time Arafat is widely expected to be elected president of the Palestinian Council.
Specter and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) stopped off to meet with Arafat, and separately with Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior Israeli officials during a recent eight-day junket to Africa and Israel.
An inveterate critic of the Palestinian leader, Specter, who is Jewish, stressed the importance of using such meetings to keep pressure on Arafat to do his part to combat terrorism.
Specter and Shelby are the co-authors of legislation that ties U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority to its compliance with the accords Arafat has signed.
Under the measure, which is a provision of legislation known as the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, Arafat would forfeit U.S. aid until the covenant is changed.
Arafat promised to amend the covenant within 60 days of the Palestinian election.
“I’m skeptical, but now we’ll see if he’ll produce,” Specter said of Arafat’s pledge to alter the covenant. “We’ve got a specific promise with a specific date.”
While many in Congress continue to focus on amending the covenant, Palestinian officials in Gaza and the West Bank have hinted in recent weeks that it could prove easier to win approval of an entirely new covenant.
Specter and Shelby – the only senators believed to have traveled overseas during the U.S. government shutdown – drew substantial criticism upon their return.
The senators apparently deemed the trip essential because Specter chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Shelby serves as a committee member.
In the interview, Specter defended the trip as “time-sensitive,” particularly in light of the upcoming Palestinian elections.
But, he added, with “20-20 hindsight, it would have been preferable to defer it, in the face of the media criticism.”